Interview with Steven Schoenfeld of the Senior Players Championship

October 4, 2010

The Senior Players Championship is at TPC Avenel in Potomac, Maryland this week. Steven Schoenfeld is the Executive Tournament Director of the PGA Tour and heads up the Champions Tours fifth and final major. We may envision the job of a Tournament Director of this scale to be something different. We have to remember that PGA Tour events are not your average "mom-and-pop" tournaments that revolve around cart signs, scorecards, and rules sheets. Rather, they are extremely well run events demanding very articulate and well-versed business professionals. The complexity of one PGA Tour event is astounding to think about, and there are over 40 of them in a calendar year! Hopefully this interview will give you some incite into what a Tournament Director on this level really does.

Regarding tournament operations on the scale you are involved in, what makes the path you have taken unique?

My career started in public and media relations and then transitioned over to sales. My first position was in the public relations department at the Boston Celtics. I got my feet wet with some great experience and had lots of fun. I then spent several years as the director of public and media relations for a minor league baseball club, the Bridgeport (CT) Bluefish. A short time later, having been elevated to oversee all of the marketing and sales initiatives for the club, I was also an active participant in outbound corporate sales efforts.

So where did tournament operations come into the picture?

I transitioned that experience into my next position, when I was hired as the sales and marketing director for the Greater Hartford Open PGA TOUR event. After five years in Hartford, I became the Tournament Director/Sales and Marketing Director at the former Booz Allen Classic PGA TOUR event outside Washington D.C., and currently I am working for the PGA TOUR itself as an Executive Tournament Director at the Senior Players Championship.

What kind of advice would you give a young golf professional that aspires to follow a path similar to yours?

I believe that my sales experience was key in obtaining this position, and would give the same advice to anyone looking to break into the industry. You position yourself well for a tournament director role when you have sales experience first, because that's what you do all the time – sell your event. You sell your event to the local government officials, corporate sponsors, tournament volunteers, and almost all constituents you come in contact with.

Did you play golf in your childhood and adolescence and did you ever consider being a golf professional?

I grew up on the game of golf, having learned to play at a young age, but I wasn't of the caliber to become a golf professional, so I have taken a different path. I did not necessarily have the goal of working in golf, but knew I wanted to work in sports in some capacity. Once I found myself at the Greater Hartford Open, I knew I had found something pretty special and took it from there. Perhaps if young golf professionals can catch on at a club as the sales and marketing manager to sell memberships, that could be a good start to provide needed experience to break into the tournament industry.

Besides essentially selling your event, what kind of involvement do you have with the logistical aspects of operating the events?

My event has a staff of four, including myself, a sales manager who sells 100% of the time, an operations manager responsible for all of the logistics that pertain to building structures on the golf course, and a tournament services manager who is instrumental in managing the volunteer corps, the pro-ams and much of the sponsorship sales execution. But having said that, we all still "sell" all the time, whenever we identify an opportunity.

How do you put all the pieces together and keep them together so at tournaments end, you can say "that was a well run tournament"?

As far as putting all the pieces together, well, I think that’s an acquired knowledge you gain over the years. Its trial by fire much of the time in this industry. You have to rely on others and trust your staff to get it done, as you cannot execute an event of this magnitude without the help of many. There are site plans, operations drawings, spreadsheets and checklists that we draft, edit and manage for 51 weeks of the year in preparation for a one-week golf tournament. To execute a successful event you have to have the discipline to keep up with the plans and the checklists all year to stay on schedule, but also have the ability and the trust to make changes when needed to improve and become more efficient. It takes a lot of patience and time management to juggle what is on your plate. I'm pretty Type A, so I think that helps!

What are some aspects of your position, that if you didn’t do them well, it would be detrimental to the operation?

My sales manager and I assemble our board of "Ambassadors" when we land in a new city. This is a group of business and community leaders that already have relationships in the market. They are instrumental in generating corporate sponsorship leads, ticket sales avenues and recruiting volunteers. It is extremely helpful to have people with local ties buy into what we are doing. Without this group, our jobs would be that much more difficult. So if you don’t get acclimated to the local market and involve local individuals who have an interest in golf and promoting the charitable aspects of what we do, it will be an uphill battle. Additionally, in overseeing the tournament staff, I try to give them a relatively long rope and let them do their thing so they have autonomy in their positions. However, we have weekly staff meetings so I can stay up to date on what they are doing and keep everyone on track. That is key… trust the staff to do their jobs, but keep your finger on the pulse of what is happening.

Thanks, Steven. Your insight will go a long way towards helping assistant professionals along their career path.

As you can see, the job of a tournament director is more geared towards sales and marketing, which is very enlightening. You may love operating tournaments and events and you may have volunteered for many Tour events. There may have been a time when you wanted to work for the PGA Tour in some capacity, but you didn't know how to go about doing it. As your career progresses, your goals naturally evolve and those aspirations may or may not linger. Working at a club as a golf professional probably won't be your ticket to attaining a Tournament Director position on any of the major tours. But after reading this brief interview with Steven Schoenfeld, hopefully you can get some perspective on the direction you need to take.