Officials ditch sales for quality

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Tiger Woods‘ new golf tournament is severely lacking in one thing that most fans probably don’t miss: companies trying to sell stuff.

The tens of thousands of golf fans at the AT&T; National this week likely have noticed a relative dearth of advertising and the absence of sponsors hawking everything from new energy drinks to timeshares in Boca Raton.

While the tournament has no shortage of sponsors (more than 20), the majority of those firms are practically invisible at Congressional Country Club this week, as organizers have given up as much as $500,000 in revenue in exchange for a clutter-free experience for fans.

“We wanted to have the presentation at the highest level and wanted it clean, with minimal signage,” said Greg McLaughlin, the tournament director and executive director of the Tiger Woods Foundation. “We all decided that we were going to present the tournament in as fine a fashion as possible.”

Typically, golf tournaments are a field day for companies, which use a captive crowd to try out new products and advertise their services. But the only company with a truly visible presence this week is AT&T;, the tournament’s chief sponsor, which is operating a digital media center near the 17th green and has lent out hundreds of wireless “mobile caddies.”

There is little evidence of any other corporate involvement, aside from a scattering of scoreboard advertisements and 20 small, rectangular signs depicting sponsor logos at the club’s main entrance. Even merchandise at Congressional is being sold only in the facility’s small golf shop and out of small booths barely large enough to house a single worker.

Local broadcasters are forbidden from hanging large signs announcing their presence; most of the affiliates generated their reports from makeshift sets near Congressional’s driving range, out of sight of most fans.

“We weren’t bombarded with it when we walked in,” said Chris Shehane of Baltimore, as he watched golfers coming in on the 18th green. “It’s good. It really makes you want to come back.”

Tournament organizers credit the event’s clean look to its host, Woods, who insisted on keeping ticket prices low and offering free admission to children and thousands of active members of the U.S. Armed Forces.

“He said from the start he wanted to have a different kind of tournament,” said Congressional Country Club president Stuart Long. “He didn’t want any of those credit card stands, that kind of stuff.”

McLaughlin said the tournament willingly gave up between $250,000 and $500,000 in revenue by fending off requests by companies to establish an on-course presence. Any and all efforts to set up booths or kiosks or put in place large advertisements were denied, despite countless requests by many companies looking to take advantage of the tournament’s special accommodation of military personnel.

“They’ll do anything,” McLaughlin said. “The sky’s the limit, and there are so many companies that wanted access to the military and that demographic. I can’t tell you how many people are interested in the members of the military and their presence here.”

For Congressional members, the absence of corporate excess was a relief. While the club receives a hefty fee for allowing use of the course, it has little control over what tournament organizers do.

“This is a different kind of event,” said Granville Smith, a club member from North Potomac. “There are not a lot of corporate tents, period. From our standpoint, the course has never been in better shape. It’s fantastic.”

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