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December 3, 2021
So You Want to Run a Golf Tournament
By Andrea Decof

Golf ball
If you have ever thought of running a golf tournament to raise money for your nonprofit, you’re in good company #147; and lots of it.

When my family and I first started our foundation to raise money for cancer treatment, we figured it would be easy to run a little golf tournament as a one-time event, no big deal. We were wrong on all counts. Six years later, we have run six tournaments, and these events have become the primary source of income for our foundation.

As a confirmed non-golfer, and with no prior fundraising experience, I’ve learned the hard way how to run a tournament. I offer herein some food for thought, along with a few pointers and pitfalls to watch for.

If you think a tournament might be the way to go, start by doing some research. Are there already a lot of tournaments held in your area? Do you know a lot of golfers, and more to the point, golfers who have the means and interest to play in a tournament? A full roster in our events is 128 players. That’s a lot of slots to fill. Sound out your golfer friends for ideas and interest. Form an exploratory committee of golfers and listen to their advice.

As charity events go, a tournament is pretty labor-intensive. Recruit energetic volunteers and committee members who can handle the workload. Assign specific jobs to your volunteers, so each one knows what to do and when to do it. Have a volunteer coordinator who will handle any snafus.

A good course is key. Choose an exciting venue. Is there a good course in your area that would host your tournament? Talk to members of high-end clubs about hosting your event. The exclusivity factor will be a big draw. And choose a club with a good story—historical significance, home of a well-known pro, resort location, renowned 13th hole—to draw big numbers and out-of-area players.

Golf tournaments are a dime a dozen. Make yours different. Our golfer friends get dozens of invitations to charity tournaments, for every weekend between May and October. From the outset we realized we needed a “hook” to set our tournament apart, so we brought in a celebrity golf instructor and a PGA pro to teach and play. They were a hit, and the tournament was a success. Since then we’ve tried to put in a new element each year to keep it fresh and exciting, and we’ve maintained a good number of repeat players. What can you offer to set your tournament apart from the rest? Give them something they won’t get elsewhere and you’ll get their attention.

Start planning early. Running a tournament is not a one-day effort, in spite of how it looked on “The Apprentice.” It takes months of planning, organizing, and working the phones to make it successful. Assign jobs to your committee members, and give yourself at least six months lead time. Get advice from others who have run tournaments, or better yet, visit one yourself and see how it’s done. Start publicizing early, talk it up or send out save-the-date cards. Make a tournament timetable, and stay on schedule.

The price is right. I’ve seen tournaments at $50 a head, going up to $25,000 a head to play in a major celebrity event. Where do you need to be to reach your goal? What’s the going rate in your area? Make sure the numbers will work after figuring out your costs. Discuss with your committee, and get input from golfers who are likely to attend. What will the market bear? What can you offer to draw in players at a higher price? And watch your budget. It’s easy to eat up all your profits with a fancy dinner and/or entertainment.

Get a big-name athlete to participate. Golfers love to play with celebrities. The brag factor is big, really big. And it’s a well-known fact that many retired athletes love to play golf, if their knees are not shot. So if you have a friend of a friend who knows a retired (or active) PGA pro, Patriot, Red Sox, Bruin, or Celtic, get on the horn, and invite them to play. You may have to spring for an appearance fee, but get the biggest name you can. It’ll be a match made in heaven, and you’ll create great buzz for your event.

Be calm, organized, and flexible. Keep things moving. If your players finish lunch at 12:30 and tee-off is scheduled for 1:00, send them out at 12:30. Don’t panic if it rains on your tournament date. Plan ahead for a rain date, and your golfers will come back to play. Get feedback from your players and helpers throughout the day, and make every player feel like a special guest.

Above all, remember this is a big commitment of time, effort, and money. So be sure it’s worth your while. If the numbers don’t work for you, move on to another idea. If they do work, give it a shot. All you need is some careful planning and a bit of good luck. If you’re up for the challenge, you can hit a hole in one with a golf tournament that’s a creative and financial success.

Andrea Decof is a director of the Adele R. Decof Foundation, which raises money for local cancer programs. Email her at
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