Fifty-six volunteers recently began braving the recession to call on area businesses to build support for the Verizon Heritage, Hilton Head Island's PGA Tour event.
Organizers hope the effort, called the Sponsor Partnership Club, will reap more than $100,000 in additional sponsorship for the 2010 tournament and help it attract a new title sponsor for 2011 and beyond.
Career consultant Jack Wilson organized the club after Verizon announced earlier this year it will not return as the tournament's title sponsor after 2010.
Reaching the club's goal would be "a monumental achievement" under these economic conditions, but ensuring the health of the tournament and its impact on the community is worth the effort, Wilson said.
"We really have to do everything we can to demonstrate to the PGA Tour and prospective title sponsors that the community is staunchly behind this," Wilson said. "We're not going to let it go away."
Teams of two volunteers started calling on 120 businesses shortly before Thanksgiving, said Bill Wagner, sales director of the Heritage Classic Foundation, which runs the tournament. Volunteers are to complete their assignments by Jan. 15.
The volunteers have been instructed to remind businesses of the tournament's importance to the local economy and emphasize the range of ways in which businesses can participate, Wilson said.
Tournament officials seek to broaden the event's sponsorship at all levels.
Options range from the title sponsorship, which would cost about $8 million per year, to the Birdies For Charity program, in which businesses pledge money to charity for every birdie players make during the tournament.
"There's almost nobody that cannot afford something," Wilson said.
The volunteers also could drum up ticket sales, Wagner said.
Tournament officials are open to ideas to help make sponsorships more affordable. For example, volunteer John Chiacchiero, managing director of Oak Advisors, put together a group of business colleagues who are sharing the cost of a skybox suite.
If the club meets its goal, that would bring the 2010 tournament's non-title sponsorships to $1.4 million, matching the total for the 2009 tournament, Wagner said.
Name that tour
What about the title sponsorship?
Heritage Classic Foundation officials are working with the PGA Tour to recruit a new title sponsor for the Verizon Heritage.
The foundation, which runs the tournament, seeks a new title sponsor at a rate of about $8 million per year for its 2011 event and beyond.
Foundation officials are talking with two consumer-based companies but do not have any formal proposals, sales director Bill Wagner said.
"There really isn't any hot prospect out there right now," Wagner said.