Getting ready for the blitz

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Published: April 19,2004

Even though the 37th-annual Southern Farm Bureau Classic won`t begin until late September at the Annandale Golf Club in Madison, organizers are gearing up for a sales and marketing blitz.

By month-end, corporations should receive the 2004 Classic Sponsorship Offerings packet, with information outlining various advertising methods to reach the 100,000 Classic fans during the Sept. 27-Oct.3 PGA tournament.

“We’re sending out recommitment letters this week, contacting sponsors from 2003 and giving them an opportunity to sign up for 2004,” said Robert Morgan, executive director of the prestigious event, which he helped establish as the Magnolia Golf Classic at the Hattiesburg Country Club in the late 1960s. “We encourage everybody to come back and support us.”

Morgan also began searching for a new tournament director after Steve Hutton resigned March 15 to join the Promise Keepers, a Christ-centered men`s ministry organization.

“We hope to fill that slot in April,” said Morgan. “We still have the rest of our staff in place so we won`t drop the ball. Hiring a new tournament director is not an easy process to go through, but in retrospect, it might give us an opportunity to move the event up a notch. That`s the way we’re approaching it. If this had to happen, maybe it`s for a reason, and maybe it`ll give us an opportunity to get bigger and better.”

After sponsorship commitments are received, the organization will begin a direct mail marketing campaign “and do lots of cold calling,” said Classic staffer Russ Rutland.

“We’re non-discriminate when it comes to taking money,” he said, with a chuckle.

The best seat in the house – a spot in the air-conditioned Trophy Suite, featuring panoramic glass windows, a private restroom, hospitality space with a wet bar, stereo televisions and tented roof top seating – costs $22,000, plus food and beverage.

“The most requested sponsorships are for Pro-Ams, the Alltel Arena and the SkyClub,” said Rutland. “Those go fast.”

Last year, corporate sponsors witnessed an exciting Classic finish when pro golfer John Huston rallied with three birdies on the back nine to edge Brenden Pappas by a stroke with a total score of 268 for his seventh career PGA tour victory. His share of the $3-million purse was $540,000.

Birdies for Charity, a non-profit organization that raises money in association with the Southern Farm Bureau Classic to benefit Mississippi charities, brought in $277,000 through funds raised based on pledges for every birdie made during the 2003 tournament.

“As a result of the 2003 tournament, the total charitable giving for this year was an impressive $444,000,” said Russ Rutland, technical coordinator for Birdies for Charity. “Participating charities received 100% of the collected donations.”

Kristen Thigpen of Magnolia Speech School said the program allowed the educational facility for hearing-impaired and language disordered children to raise a record amount of money.

“The money raised will go toward our family tuition assistance program, ensuring that every child that needs Magnolia Speech School can come,” she said.

In May, Rutland will send information packets to qualifying charities in the state. Charities must be publicly supported, recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501(c)(3) organization, registered with the Mississippi Secretary of State, and meet the Better Business Bureau standards for charitable solicitations.

In June, Birdies for Charity will host the following kickoff events around the state:

• June 7, AmSouth Bank, 431 West Main Street, Tupelo.

• June 8, Delta State University, Student Union, Room 302A, Cleveland.

• June 14, Great Southern Club, Hancock Building, 15th floor, at the corner of U.S. 49 and 14th Street, Gulfport.

• June 15, Trustmark Executive Bank, 1 Trustmark Plaza, Hattiesburg.

• June 21, Meridian Community College, Ivy Building, Room 241, Meridian.

• June 22, Southern Farm Bureau Life, 1401 Livingston Lane, Jackson.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at mbj@thewritingdesk.com.

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