Much of golf centers on tradition, with a lot of long-time brands and sponsors on both the men’s and women’s tours. This week’s guest straddles the line with a solid place in the history of golf while bringing in a really exciting, innovative new event onto the LPGA tour.
The following excerpt has been edited for space. Watch the rest of the episode here.
Adam Grubb: My first question, Aaron, without even thinking about it is simply, when you think about your golf heritage and the lineage of golf in your family, was there anything else you were going to do in your life than be in the golf world? I mean, was there ever a time where you go, “oh, maybe I’ll head over here. I’ll be the Stewart that goes this route?”
Aaron Stewart: Well, I wanted to be a surfer, but I guess an hour away from the beach was just too far.
Alyson Johnson: Well, you have the hair for it!
So the Tournament of Champions is one of the new events of the tour, as we’ve said, and you’re kicking off the season next year, which is a really great spot to be in. Your format’s a little bit different. So talk to us about what goes on that week.
Aaron Stewart: Yeah, it is a little bit of a unique event. We got partnered with the LPGA Tour back in 2019. And the previous 10 years leading up to that, they had not had a true winners-only event. I believe when Mike Whan took over as commissioner, I believe that they had somewhere in the realm of 23 to 24 events on their schedule. And over the years, they were able to build that up to 30 plus, to the point that he felt that it was warranted and he could go back to his players and stand up and say, no, we’ve grown to the point that now we can support true winners.
This is what we’re going to do right now from the Diamond side, we got started back in 2013 as a one day charitable fundraising event. One of our brand ambassadors, Brian Gay, goes “where’s our logo out on tour?” He was kind enough to put his name behind it. And so that’s how the tournament actually got started. It grew over the years, from inviting your friends and business partners in the Orlando area, to a full-on week-long party that it’s become these days.
Adam Grubb: When you think of the Tournament of Champions, and a limited field, does that limit the amount of excitement in your mind?
Because there’s not as many opportunities for sponsors, or does this actually have the opposite effect- that limited field gives more opportunities for sponsors to have different activations and different ways to market inside that tournament?
Aaron Stewart: I think you hit it on the second point, Adam, I think, that it actually presents more of an opportunity. And when we say limited field, we’re really just speaking to the LPGA to the professional side of the event. We bring in a full field of celebrities from sports and entertainment worlds that are not professional golfers. But, the combination of that really brings in one the coolest things of our event, it brings in a new audience to the game of golf. They’re not your typical golf enthusiasts that are watching every tournament weekend and week out. They may be a football fan that wants to watch Larry Fitzgerald.
And they’re a big fan of that. They found out that he’s playing in this tournament in Orlando. So they’re going to watch him play golf rather than dominate on the football field. Like he normally does. Right? We’ve got basketball players. We’ve got baseball players, hockey players. These are former all-stars that have really excelled in their particular sports and the fans are going to come out and watch them, and they’re gonna get exposed to, “I can’t believe that Vince Carter is walking down the fairway next to a 5’4” professional LPGA player.
We’re now able to provide this experiential marketing because of what we’ve done over the last 10 years. And what we saw when we created what we call our Events of a Lifetime franchise- that is this experiential marketing platform- that we put our guests and owners that are on vacation with us during their vacation.
Adam Grubb: You guys have done something really cool when it comes to mixing the media, the entertainment, the music, food, and golf is there- it’s a central part, but it’s not the only attraction when this idea came out. When you guys started talking about this, who said, “hold on a second, people don’t want to do all that. They just want to watch golf,” and who said, “Nope, they do. And this is what our brand is about. This is how we, how we get people involved.”
Aaron Stewart: So 100% the credit to the tournament itself. This is the brainchild of our CEO. So Mike has been the driving factor behind both the Events of a Lifetime franchise within Diamond Resorts, that’s kind of grown into, as I mentioned, what’s become now the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions, plus the 3000 other events that we host throughout the year at our various resort, um, or around the country.
Alyson Johnson: So, inside the ropes, you’ve got top LPGA talent. You’ve got really exciting musicians and actors and famous people coming in. What’s going on outside the ropes for the spectators that come to your event?
Aaron Stewart: Yeah, absolutely. So, one of the cool things that we came up with a few years ago was, we were noticing that a lot of the spectators that were coming out were kind of congregating in between the 18th hole, the second hole in the first hole, because there’s a pretty long bridge that goes through an Audubon sanctuary.
So we’ve got to shuttle people across that bridge. There becomes a little bit of a holdup. Anyway, we’re noticing a bottleneck between those three holes. So what we did was we created- coming from the resort industry and the travel industry- our Tastes and Travel Paths. We went out and built four different food and beverage locations throughout the course, and we theme these around places that we have resorts in. We tied in specialty food and beverage items at each of those locations that were themed around those locations and people could come and drink. We had it changing every day. Uh, that was one thing. Another thing we do is, being that it is a limited field event, there’s no cut. It’s a little bit more relaxed atmosphere. We’re playing music on the driving range. We’ve got a DJ on the 18th hole, which the, the conventional or the traditional golf fan… we get a lot of mixed feedback, I guess you could say on it. Um, but I will say the LPGA, we turned down the music for that. Most of them are kind of giving them the, the sign to keep it going, you know, turn it up. I remember this year watching Stacey Lewis, we turned it down and she looked back like “no, crank it up!”
To learn more about the Tournament of Champions and Payne Stewart’s legacy within Aaron, check out the rest of the episode here.