Setting up a golf tournament is so much more than simply booking a block of tee times. Beyond getting the competitive juices flowing—each event is an opportunity (as a savvy Member Club commish) to grow your membership and strengthen your community. For many players, your tournament may be one of their only chances to get out and play that month so making sure that each and every player has a great time becomes that much more important. Do it for the people!
In this three part series, I’ll lay out simple lists and tips to help you pull off a seamless and engaging golf tournament for each of your members (and members-to-be!)
Let’s kick things off!
Plan out your club’s schedule as far in advance as you’re able. The more dates you can get on the board, the more opportunities there are for current and prospective members to see which ones work for them. Having a list of tournament dates will also help as you reach out to courses to start booking tee times as tournament coordinators can easily cross-reference with their own event schedule.
As you consider your club’s schedule, also think about varying up your formats to allow for the widest array of golfers to find something they’ll like. At my club, Tiny Putters, we like to rotate between individual, pairs, and team formats so that we can strike a nice balance between curating some great team club vibes and allowing members to go low solo and earn glory for themselves. For a deeper dive into possible options or as a little inspiration, I’ve (conveniently) put together a list of my 10 favorite tournament formats.
Another format to consider is joining up with other clubs to hold a multi-club tournament. Hosting these events will generate buzz within your club, allow your members to play cooperatively instead against each other for a change, and could spark a fun rivalry with another group.
Share your list of tournament dates with the tournament coordinators at your desired courses to find the perfect pair. Things to consider when reaching out to courses are the format you intend to play (i.e. if you want to play a scramble where not every player will be recording a full 18 hole score, then perhaps choose cheaper courses so players get more bang for their buck) and the location of the course (i.e. if your club does not have a home course, then look to rotate where each tournament is played so that members who live across the area are never more than a few events away from one in their own backyard.)
Coordinating a tee time with the course can seem pretty straight forward—whatever they offer you, right? Not necessarily. There are a few tips I have when booking tee times that can be sneaky useful to your members. Sunday afternoon? Beware. Most of us have our day jobs on Monday so setting your tournament for midday Sunday spells disaster for post-round hangs as everyone will usually need to hightail it out of there to be rested for the week. Another thing to look for are major sporting events. Especially when you are just beginning to grow your club, setting your tournament at the same time as March Madness opening weekend or a Sunday during a golf major could spell disaster for recruitment efforts.
After locking in a course for your event, remember to ask about any perks that course may offer. Everyone loves to feel pampered and get “a little extra” for their money—and most courses are willing to offer free or discounted range balls and other services to help you throw a great event. Never hurts to ask!
Once you get an idea of what perks you can offer, it’s time to set a reasonable entry fee. This will vary depending on the membership and vibe of your club, but a few key things to remember are whether you want to “bake in” a prize pot to the overall entry fee for trophies and prizes—as well as introduce a guest fee (as outlined in our How to Grow Your Membership guide) to help incentivize players to join and give your members a feeling of exclusivity.
You can never put too much info on the site especially when trying to woo new members. So the more details as to what format you’ll be playing, entry fee, course, tee times, etc. that you can—do it! Once your members start to understand that they don’t even have to wait for the official RSVP email to arrive to see when upcoming events are, you’ll be shocked at how many people you can get signed up weeks or even months in advance!
One of the easiest ways to start your tournament recruiting is with a well-timed announcement/RSVP email. The key word here is “well-timed.” Send too early and you run the risk of players forgetting they ever RSVP’d and backing out a few weeks (or days!) before the event. Send too late and you run the risk of players booking alternative conflicting events. We’ve found the sweet spot to be 4-5 weeks prior with an additional reminder the Monday after your previous event—keep the energy alive!
Social media is a great tool for immediate recruiting efforts for your tournament. I love posting the same day the first email goes out—helping reenforce the message. But I also recommend, assuming space is still open, echoing your call for RSVPs each week so as players consider attending, they’re never more than a week away from a friendly reminder. (Pro Tip: Use social media stories as your primary tool to help fill week-of vacancies. Emails can often go unread, but if you post on social saying “ONLY TWO SPOTS LEFT”, you’ll find the sense of urgency highly effective.
I briefly outlined this idea in my How to Grow Your Membership piece, but the member-guest referral system is one of the strongest recruiting tools you can add to your arsenal. Nobody is going to be a better salesman for your league, than the members who love it most. So give them a little extra incentive by knocking $5 off member’s entry fee if they bring a guest. It may seem small but think about it… if every member plays golf with another group of 10+ people, then every member has the capacity to bring an additional 10 people to a tournament! It adds up quick.
As the RSVPs start pouring in, having an organized and repeatable process for keeping track of everything is key. At Tiny Putters, we use Google Sheets templates for each tournament that track players payments, handicaps and emails so final tournament preparation is smooth and centrally located. Then, when it’s time for a new tournament, simply duplicate your previous tournament sheets!
For better or worse, there are about a million ways to pay people these days. While cold hard cash is always nice to have in hand, the earlier you can secure payment means the more confidence you’ll have that people won’t bail last minute. Venmo, PayPal, Zelle—all three make great options and people can connect directly with their bank account for secure transactions. We usually implement a payment deadline of a week prior so we can provide the course with an accurate headcount. And it’s worth outlining some “legal-ese” that says anyone who has to withdraw after payment deadline risks losing their entry fee if no replacement is found. No use eating that cost as a tournament organizer, we do enough as-is!
Plan to send your final tee sheet and tournament details on the Thursday prior. Without a doubt, people will get curious about their exact times somewhere around 11a on Thursday, and trust me, unless you want to field a half dozen antsy emails or texts from people asking when they’re going out and who they’re playing with, just get ahead and send first thing Thursday.
(Pro Tip: As you set up tee pairings, playing matchmaker is a criminally underrated skill. Pairing new members with veterans is usually a good way to ensure newbies get the best experience. But also consider mixing and matching friend groups and personalities to help create more connections among players and possible friendships down the line. Take it from me, nothing more rewarding than watching two people meet on the first tee and then swap numbers for future tee times on the 18th green. You helped make that happen!)
If you’re on time, you’re late. Nowhere is this old adage more appropriate than on game day of your tournament. The key to a great tournament is showing your players that they’re more than just a number on a tee sheet. Being the first friendly face everyone sees helps your members feel a part of something fun and helps your potential recruits feel that your league is something worth being a part of.
Speaking of welcome committees. It’s worth thinking about where and how you greet everyone at your event. Are you a stationary table kind of club where everyone checks in when they arrive? Or are you an on-the-go kind of club where you meet people on the practice green, shaking hands and chit-chatting before they go through their warm ups. Both are effective, it’s just a matter of which feels right for you.
Another to-do for the early arriving Club Commish is the scorecard setup. If you’re attempting a more involved format then making sure you allow yourself the time to mark up cards for everyone before people arrive and you have to switch into “host mode” is key. Or, make your life even easier by registering your event on Golf Genius—the SCGA’s partner app that has all the live leaderboard and scorecard functionality you could need.
Getting everyone to the tee on time can be a bit like wrangling cats. You can never have too many reminders so be sure to leverage the course starter to help announce upcoming tee times, and it never hurts to outline in your tournament details email to arrive at least 20 minutes prior to your tee time just in case.
(Pro Tip: Try to send another organizer or one of your more responsible members with the first group to be your “official” scorecard collector on 18 or to help gather people at the clubhouse afterwards. Then schedule yourself into the final tee time so you can keep people on time at the first tee. We call it the “Bookend” method and it never steers us wrong.)
A first tee announcement of rules is all well and good, when you’ve got the full field there. However, as everyone scrambles to squeeze in a few extra swings on the range or putts on the green, it helps to print out a quick outline of the playing rules for the day to hand to each foursome so people can quickly refer to it during the round.
FOMO is a powerful tool as you grow your Member Club. So be sure to ask everyone to post and tag your club throughout the tournament day to help spread the word and show everyone who couldn’t make it just how much fun they’re missing out on. Then, even if it’s just a simple re-post, add them all to your club’s story for a fun recap of the round to save for later.
The 19th hole can make or break a tournament. Sure, not everyone is going to want to drink their sorrows away or toast to their day of success. But, the camaraderie and vibes of a well curated 19th hole is debatably more important to your Member Club recruiting efforts than the actual round itself.
(Pro Tip: nothing cheers up a player who narrowly missed the prizes like a surprise pitcher of beer or plated appetizers waiting for them as they get off the course. Always remember to leave them wanting more and these little touches go a long way to helping everyone feel appreciated.)
Speaking of prizes, here is where you can get really creative with your tournament. Obviously trophies and side pots are going to be staples of any incentivized winnings pot. But where you can really get crafty is by tapping into your network for interesting giveaways from golf companies or thinking outside the box with non-traditional “trophies” that can add character to the event. For instance, in our Masters tournament each April we award a green jacket to that year’s low gross winner. It’s a size 40R and whoever wins has to wear it—big or small. And the net champion wins their own little wardrobe piece, a “Sand Bag” aka a burlap sack we cut holes into that we painted giant scarlet letters SAND onto. It may not look pretty but it’s one of our most sought after prizes to this day.
Perhaps the most important tip I can give for throwing a great tournament… is plugging your next one! Combined with the RSVP email that will hit their inboxes the following week, you want to remind everyone in a moment of great vibes and celebration that they can keep this party going into your next event too!