Women’s Open a national stage for local connections

When Annika Sorenstam and Pat Hurst dueled to a draw early in the evening of July 2 at the U.S. Women’s Open at Newport Country Club, they pushed the outcome until the following afternoon and deflated the drama that had been building all day.

But for a number of the 10,000 people ringing the 18th green, it didn’t really matter that Sorenstam was the eventual victor, because they – and their companies – were already winners.

BankNewport was the first company to sign on with the United States Golf Association (the sponsoring organization) as a corporate “patron” of the Open, purchasing a hospitality tent along the 18th fairway, as well as a number of tickets to the corporate “sky box” at the 13th hole. The bank estimates that 2,000 customers and their guests cycled through the tent in the course of the week.

Talking to President and CEO Thomas W. Kelly on Sunday afternoon, it was clear that not even the fog that closed the course to the public on Monday dampened the mood or the business benefits.

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“It would take years to spend that much quality time [with customers] in a six-day period,” he said.

Kelly saw the opportunity to put the bank on a national stage right in its own backyard, and decided to take the plunge.

According to the USGA’s Web site, the plunge for patrons ranged from $20,000 for the “Tillinghast Package,” which included tickets to the communal corporate tent, general admission tickets and special parking passes, all the way up to $175,000 for the “Astor Package,” which included an 18th hole tent, the 13th hole skybox, a golf outing at Newport and advertising in the official programs.

The BankNewport team was reluctant to divulge its actual expenditure – as were other patrons – but whatever it was, the return on that investment is not likely to be calculated anytime soon.

John Rodman, director of marketing and sales for the Preservation Society of Newport County, looked at the event as a chance to reach people who hadn’t seen the city before.

Society staff manned parking lots and distributed maps and an offer good for $5 off any ticket to the Newport Mansions. All told, Rodman said, his staff greeted some 15,000 people, and two days after the event, he had already seen redemptions on the mansion offer.

Tom Magee, vice president of business development for Arpin Van Lines, of East Greenwich, another corporate patron, also was enthusiastic. “Our corporate clients … will be back for a personal vacation,” he said, and they will be thanking Arpin for giving them the idea.

Amica Mutual Insurance Co. used the event not only to bring in clients, but also to reward employees. Vince Burks, senior assistant vice president, said employees as far away as California participated in a raffle for tickets.

Some visitors to Amica’s tent weren’t invited, but were welcomed. One 85-year-old man, who has been using Amica since 1943, “ended up staying for hours and talking to people in the villa about how wonderful Amica was,” said Burks.

A “rival” golf club took a position on the 18th fairway: The Carnegie Abbey Club in Portsmouth saw the Open as both a members’ event and part of its ongoing marketing strategy.

The club owner, Brian O’Neill, hosted Sorenstam at his Newport estate, while the club hosted LPGA star Paula Creamer and her teacher, David Leadbetter, who talked with members throughout the week. In addition, the club ran a bus to the event twice a day, making life simple for its members.

The week wasn’t all about happy customers and opportunities seized. There were some life lessons learned as well.

“Don’t put out the shrimp on Tuesday,” said BankNewport’s Kelly. “Wait until Thursday when the event actually starts.” Otherwise, there won’t be any left for the weekend.

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