Today, I have the great fortune of attending a practice round for The Masters at Augusta National Golf Club. Our group includes my brother Dermy, a golf course superintendent at a small private course back home in Cork, Ireland, and four other guests.
I’ve been to The Masters three times previously but not since 2006 and I understand from friends who’ve attended the tournament more recently that the golf club with the reputation for clinging to tradition like a mother does a child, has actually made enormous changes since my last visit. There’s a luxurious, new Media Center considered the finest in all of sports, additional and ample nearby patron parking, improved viewing areas and, of course, there’s constant tinkering with the course itself. Yet, the changes are always so subtle and so seamlessly logical that you probably think they’ve been there all along.
Billy Payne, the recently retired Chairman of Augusta National, says the club and its zealously guarded membership make these improvements and enhancements out of “the principle of constant improvement. We know no other way.”
Undoubtedly, many of you reading this blog have hosted guests, or been a hosted guest, at The Masters and can appreciate how indescribably special the grounds, the event, the staff, and the overall experience truly are. GOLF Magazine writer Michael Rosenberg wrote in an April 2017 article, “The Masters is special for many reasons, but the biggest is this: It is designed to be special. Special is the driving force. For more than 80 years, the members have done everything they can to make the tournament stand out, from the concessions to the limited (TV) commercial time to the green jackets that their wives would not let them wear to any other social occasion. A lot of sporting events produce revenue; only a special event would take pride in turning down revenue.”
This got me thinking about what lessons those of us involved in corporate meeting and event planning could learn from Augusta National Golf Club and its signature event often called “a tradition unlike any other”.
Here are five that I hope will inspire you to constantly strive to enhance and tinker with your corporate meetings to make them special and memorable in their own way …
Southern Hospitality … on Steroids!
Gracious hospitality with a Southern flair is as abundant at Augusta National as lush green fairways, pimento cheese sandwiches, and $4 beers. From the moment you turn off Washington Road or Berckman’s Road into the rolling, grassy parking area, you are greeted by smiling, genuinely friendly volunteers who keep your vehicle moving constantly until it stops in the closest available parking space. As you leave your car and pass other volunteers, they greet you with a cheery “Good Morning, enjoy The Masters!” This continues as you pass through the security gates, into the merchandise shop, at concessions stands, and onto the grounds where polite marshals gently guide you along. It’s obvious they’re as happy to be there as you are.
LESSON: Make every aspect of your corporate meeting or event friendly, warm and inviting – from the ground shuttle staff at airports to the dedicated registration desk at the hotel, during breaks, at activities, from presenters onstage, during luggage pull, etc. Smiles come cheap but are worth more than you can imagine!
“The Toughest Ticket in Sports!”
For most of its 80+ years, The Masters has been considered “the toughest ticket in sport” for its elite field of competitors, magical setting, history loaded with defining moments, and the international demand that far surpasses the available supply of series badges and daily tickets.
LESSON: Make your event a hot commodity. Design and execute it at such a high level that people count down the days to it. Whether you’re an association trying to lure attendees or an in-house corporate group with a “command performance” audience, infuse your corporate event with the energy of a rock & roll concert. Ask anybody who’s ever attended Salesforce.com’s Dreamforce event each year in San Francisco. They’ll understand.
Emergency Evacuation Planning
A friend of mine who attends The Masters every year on Wednesday of tournament week shared his experience from last year. He left Atlanta at 4 o’clock in the morning to make the three-hour drive to Augusta, attended an association’s annual meeting in the Media Center shortly after breakfast, then walked onto the grounds to take in some golf. One minute later, the mandatory evacuation sirens sounded due to nearby lightning. Two hours and 45 minutes later (spent waiting in his car), the gates reopened, he walked onto the course and, one minute later, the sirens sounded again, signaling a second lightning-related evacuation and the end of the day’s activities. Despite six hours of driving and nearly three hours cooling his heels in his car for a
mere two minutes on the course, he told me how amazing it was to see so many people so quickly and orderly dispatched from the grounds and to a place of safety. Staffers knew exactly what to say and do in order to move people along smoothly and efficiently, and to ensure the evacuation didn’t feel like a rough herding of cattle.
LESSON: We all understand the importance of emergency contingency planning but, like personal estate planning or pruning bushes, do we ever really get around to it? Time to rededicate yourself to the development of contingency plans and, just as importantly, take the time to educate your staff so they know the plan like the backs of their hands – because that may be all they have to refer to in an emergency situation.
Lines, Lines, Everywhere a Line ….
You’re thirsty and hungry and just want to grab an ice-cold “Coke-cola” and a BBQ sandwich but the line at The Masters concession stand is so long. Or, did you promise all your friends who fronted you money that you’d come back with a treasured Masters golf shirt, hat, key chain or some other memento for them? But, jeez, look at that line that serpentines outside the merchandise shop. It’s so, so long. But wait, it’s moving right along. That guy up there in the green shirt was way back here five minutes ago and now he’s two steps shy of the entry door. Things aren’t always as they seem at Augusta National … and for good reason.
LESSON: Just as Augusta National excels at moving people along by staffing, staffing and staffing some more, make sure your onsite meeting and event staff is far beyond a skeletal crew. I know that carries with it budget ramifications but the fact that your guests’ needs will be immediately met, and staffers won’t be unduly stretched and stressed is worth the investment. That smile thing I mentioned a few paragraphs north of here …? Yeah, people working consecutive 20-hour days aren’t likely to do a whole lot of smiling or sharp thinking, and that greatly diminishes the guest/attendee experience.
Honor Tradition … but Keep Evolving
Every Thursday morning of Masters Week at precisely 7:40AM, The Masters holds its ceremonial opening tee shots on hole No.1 (nicknamed Tea Olive as every hole at Augusta National is named for a flower or shrub that was once grown on the grounds of Fruitlands Nursery which is now where Augusta National sits). Golf legends Jack Nicklaus, the all-time leader with six Masters Green Jackets, and Gary Player, who owns three, will each stripe a ball down No.1 fairway and current Augusta National Chairman Fred Ridley will declare: “The 2018 Masters has officially begun. Have fun, everybody!”
LESSON: Tradition counts. Honor those icons – people, products, company milestones, etc. – at your corporate meetings and events while quietly working to tweak and tinker with the event from year to year to ensure it doesn’t get old, it only gets better.
The bottom line: If you’re going to do something, do it right. Make it special. Make it memorable. Make it the gold standard. In short, make it … Masterful!
The Masters Golf Tournament is a shining example of fastidious attention to detail and passionate desire to deliver a world-class experience for its patrons. Corporate meeting and event planners can learn a lot from The Masters!