“It was clear the PGA wanted to keep the most awarded event on the calendar,” Langwell said. “We had conversations on what the right thing to do was. How can we reimagine the giving strategy to impact the outcome for Detroit in a positive way?”
The answer was the Rocket Mortgage Fall Classic, a charity event tentatively scheduled for early September at the Detroit Golf Club. It will replace last year’s pro-am, which generated more than $2 million in revenue for the tournament last year.
Rickie Fowler, sponsored by Quicken Loans, has committed to the July tournament and the September charity event. So has last year’s winner Nate Lashley. A solid bunch of celebrities, including Detroit Golf Club member Kid Rock, are expected to participate in the charity event as well, Langwell said.
Organizers are trying to replicate the success of last year’s inaugural tournament while playing by the rules of COVID-19. That means splitting the tournament from its primary charity effort and hoping that come September, they’ll be able to safely pack the course for a new edition of the celebrity pro-am.
Langwell said he hopes to sign on more than 200 for the golf outing at $3,000 per slot. Foursomes will play a scramble and be able to interact with PGA golfers and celebrities throughout the round, all while maintaining proper social distance on the 220-acre property.
Charity proceeds from the event will be funneled into a campaign to provide every Detroit resident with internet access within five years.
With no on-site opportunities for advertising during the PGA tournament — besides for Quicken Loans, which has exclusive rights to television exposure — the fall event is also a way to keep sponsors onboard.
“A number of our partners decided to either donate their contribution to us, defer it to next year, or find a different way to sponsor it this year versus refund it, which is the way that we’re going to be allowed to still close our operational shortfall for dollars and find a way to give this year,” Langwell said.
He declined to discuss sponsor financials or say how many sponsors continued or pulled their support.
A few large sponsors maintained some level of investment. For example, Cadillac will still be providing courtesy cars, Chase Bank will be involved with a digital campaign and Delta Dental is likely to get behind the Area 313 Challenge, which is expected to raise more than $200,000 for charity through birdies, aces and birdies (3-1-3) made on holes 14, 15 and 16.
The tournament also salvaged a sliver of revenue from ticket donations. Those who purchased tickets prior to the no-fan announcement were given the option to receive a refund, donate their ticket cost or defer funds to next year. Around 25 percent donated or deferred, Langwell said, but he declined to say how many tickets had been sold.
The PGA Tour is scheduled to resume its season June 11, making the Rocket Mortgage Classic the fourth tournament on its new schedule. Its $7.5 million purse is tied for the largest among the first four events in the shortened season.
For that reason, fans tuning in via CBS can expect a starry field. Maybe even Tiger Woods, who attracts more eyeballs than any golfer, if the tour and organizers are lucky.
The tour makes revenue from TV rights deals; tournament organizers do not. Still, having a celebrity golfer like Woods tee it up at an event automatically elevates its profile.
“He’s been invited,” Langwell said of Woods. “We do not know what his schedule looks like, but he knows we want him here, and just like last year, we’ll remain hopeful and optimistic that he’ll decide to put us on the schedule.”
Besides Fowler, the tournament had commitments from major names including Phil Mickelson and Bryson DeChambeau. They are still expected to play, but nothing is certain amid the pandemic.
Other players expected to come to Detroit are Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson, Tommy Fleetwood, Brandt Snedeker, Graeme McDowell and Charl Schwartzel.
Besides players, the only people allowed on the grounds will be caddies and essential staff.
“Every group that you look at — volunteers, tournament staff, sponsors, media — are essentially getting by with as few people as possible to do their jobs,” said Greg Ball, who handles media relations for the tournament.
There will be “significantly less than half” of last year’s 2,000 volunteers and far less than half of the hundreds of staff members, Langwell said.
After months of planning for a larger and more stadium-like second year of the event, Langwell had to change course overnight.
“It was a pendulum shift,” he said. “It has really, in many ways, been year one all over again because everything is different,” he said. “Not different bad, just different.”