Inside the 2008 Sea Island National Pro-Am

by Brian Dobak
March 15, 2010

In just a few weeks, another Sea Island National Pro-Am will be staged. Dozens of Golf Digests "Americas 100 Greatest Courses" will be represented by their golf professional and three members for what is a highlight of the year. If you want to learn how to run a tournament and run it with both precision and problem solving acuteness, take the National Pro-Am as an example. On a purely club level, there may not be another event that combines such team work, anticipation, and challenge in a high class environment, yet brings lasting rewards for both the operators and the participants. The National Pro-Am is a time of great fun and fellowship in an intimate atmosphere such as Sea Island.


As recently as 2009, the Sea Island Company owned and operated three golf locations: Sea Island Golf Club and its three resort golf courses (Seaside, Plantation, and Retreat), and its two private havens, Ocean Forest Golf Club and Frederica Golf Club. The three locations blend beautifully within the different landscapes and environments that Saint Simons Island and Sea Island have to offer. The National Pro-Am makes great use of these locations and the Sea Island Company staff designs a memorable event for participants to experience.

The 2008 National Pro-Am consisted of rounds at The Seaside Course at Sea Island Golf Club, Ocean Forest Golf Club, and Frederica Golf Club. From 2007 to 2009, Sea Island Golf Club was rated the #1 Golf Resort in North America as voted by Golf Digest. Individually, Ocean Forest Golf Club and the Seaside Course are ranked in their respective Golf Digest Top 100 lists. Not only do the participants have an opportunity to play some of the finest courses in the country, they also have a window of opportunity to get a peak at Sea Island’s extremely high day-to-day service levels. Additionally, they are open to be pampered by Sea Islands Forbes Five Star, AAA Five Diamond facilities, The Cloister, The Spa, and The Lodge.

From the perspective of the operators, the event poses many opportunities for tournament operations education and plenty of problem solving opportunities. There are many things that can go wrong, but with organization, patience, and communication, most of the problems are solved or avoided entirely. Upper level management knows the caliber of business they are in and the caliber of people they are attracting to the resort. From top to bottom, they hire the right people to do the job. When I said earlier that the National Pro- Am is essentially just a club level event, I meant it. While the golf professional, retail, and food and beverage staff are preparing for the biggest tournament of the year, they must also balance the regular day-to-day services that the private resorts members and guests deserve.

Starting Line

How is the National Pro-Am run? Pro-Am prep didn’t really rev up until November 2007. During November, all invitations must be developed, proofed, approved, published, and mailed in a timely manner. Invitations are mailed to the Head Professionals of most of the finest clubs in the United States to participate in one of the most lavished yet under-stated club level events in the country. It is then in the hands of the invited Head Professionals to recruit three amateur members of their respective clubs. The professionals’ entry fees are complimentary and they receive a nice appearance fee to assist with travel expenses. Without divulging numbers, let’s just say the amateur entry fee is not close to your typical member-guest entry fee. All invitations are to be mailed back to Sea Island by late December. All invited guests are also required to inform the golf professional staff of their flight itinerary for transportation purposes as well as room bookings for The Lodge, The Cloister, and The Beach Club.


The first official event meeting was a two-hour get together during the first week of January. The Vice President of Retail and Golf, Director of Golf, and the Head Professionals of the Sea Island Company execute an event overview that includes discussing the event format, tees and tee times, food and beverage plans, lodging expectations for the participants, daily special events, staff assignments, and transportation logistics.

During the second week of January, multiple scoreboard headers with all logos are ordered. Courtesy cars are arranged with the local automobile dealership. A specific food and beverage meeting is planned. Bag tags are ordered and expected to be in route by the beginning of February. Also during this week, dates and participant numbers are confirmed with Caddie Master Enterprise, Sea Islands contracted caddie program administrator. Additionally, Sea Islands transportation services must be communicated with on all preliminary plans and flight manifestos for arrivals and departures.

The second event meeting is a two-hour get together the first week of February. The hosts of the event provide updates on all subjects discussed in the first event meeting, as well as all new and pertinent subjects relative to the operation of the Pro-Am. Action items are discussed such as spouse counts, photography needs, and the order of daily tee gifts. “Goody bags” include an assortment of Peter Millar apparel and the staff must give PM plenty of lead time. The golf professional staff also must give Titleist plenty of lead time to produce over 100 personalized, engraved putters and many dozens of personalized golf balls. Regarding photography, in-house photography arrangements are set for all individual and team needs.

One part of large tournament operations and even general play that is vital is managing the flow of people. Communicating to them in some way where everything is, is pertinent. Sea Island wants people leading the way, not signage pointing the way. So what then becomes important is communicating with staff and making sure they know the ins and outs of what is available to the members/guests. In the case of the National Pro-Am, everyone from top to bottom must be well versed in what needs to happen, what is happening, and what will happen.

Staff Assignments

On the assignment list of the 2008 Sea Island National Pro-Am, there were 35 staff members with assignments that ranged from small to large, but all of them extremely important in building what is year-in and year-out, an unforgettable experience for the staff members and participants. Expectations are made clear well ahead of time on who is responsible for what.

When Peter Millar tee gift apparel pieces, Scotty Cameron putters, and Titleist golf balls arrive, it becomes time to organize the sizes and label the packages for each individual participant. When the Pro-Am bag tags arrive, it becomes time to use the in-house engraving system to engrave names on the tags. Assembling tee gifts for each participant is typically done by a combination of the retail staff and the golf professional staff. Prizes from Heritage Creations will have also arrived and been safely stored in the tournament storage room.

As for scoreboards, they are done in-house by the golf professional staff as they are well trained in calligraphy. Scoreboard size, mobility, portability, style, spacing, and format are all taken into account. There is an overall competition for both the pro’s and amateurs, and then there are individual competitions at each of the three facilities.

The golf professional staff uses the Event-Man tournament software to build the competition side of the event including JPEG club logos for cart signs, scorecards, and scoreboards. Handicap confirmation lists must be firmed up and rules sheets must be drafted. Pin sheets and local-rule hard cards must be customized and drafted as well.

Airport/Vehicle Transportation

A subject of grave importance that is updated frequently by the staff is transportation services. The Sea Island staff assists in providing transportation not only to and from the three different club locations, but also to and from three different airports - Jacksonville International, Brunswick Airport, and Savannah International. The resorts transportation services and the golf professional staff must be in constant communication. Flight arrival and departure manifestos must be synced between the two. It seems as though that if a problem arose, it would likely take root in the transportation aspect of the event.

Between the first week of February and participant arrivals on March 15th, it is a time of communication and somewhat of a waiting period. Courtesy car assignments must be finalized, preparing name plates for inside the cars, and key chains with names and numbers on them. Courtesy car transportation packets must be organized with team dashboard cards, as well as maps of Sea Island and Saint Simons Island, Frederica driving instructions, pocket information cards, and courtesy car return cards.

Bag Transportation

If there is another area that has high potential for problem solving, it’s the transferring of bags from location to location. Accounting for and transporting over 100 bags over the span of three nights is not the simplest task to be accomplished. Between the golf professional staff and directors of outside services, communication is heavy with regard to cart staging and bag management.

Tournament Week

The months of preparation that go into the National Pro-Am are to execute essentially a four day golf event. Practice rounds are on the Seaside Course at Sea Island Golf Club. There is a reception the night of the practice rounds at the Beach Clubs Ocean Room. There is a dinner the night of the first round of golf at Ocean Forest Golf Club. There is a Ladies luncheon and Peter Millar trunk show at Frederica Golf Club for the spouses in the afternoon of the first round of golf. There is a dinner party the night of the second round of golf at The Lodge. And there is lunch and awards the afternoon of the third and final round of golf at The Lodge.

Finish Line

If there is anything I want you to take from this article, it’s this: Can you have a national pro-am such as Sea Islands? Probably not. But can you pay the same attention to detail to your club event? Yes. Can you display the same amount of creativity to your club event? Yes. Can you similarly organize yourself and lead your team during your club event? Yes. Can you host your own amazing tournament utilizing the great facilities you have? Yes. Do you have a staff of 35 to delegate assignments to? Probably not. Do you have the budget that Sea Island has? Probably not. But when you tailor a high-level event to your facility, your budget, and the staff you have, can you successfully pull it off like they do at Sea Island and "WHOA!" your members and guests? You sure can.