With Phil Mickelson as the headliner and spectators allowed back onsite, Richmond’s annual brush with PGA celebrities is back in full swing.
The Dominion Energy Charity Classic, a PGA Tour Champions event, begins this week at Country Club of Virginia’s James River Course, with organizers expecting this sixth year of the tournament to be the biggest yet in terms of corporate support and revenue.
For Steve Schoenfeld, executive director of the DECC, this year’s event will feel almost like normal, following an abnormal year in 2020 when the pandemic prevented crowds from attending and hurt sponsorship sales and the overall bottom line.
“ ‘Almost normal’ is a good description,” Schoenfeld said of the feeling this year. “The fact that we’ll be able to host spectators on site is a big deal.”
The week’s festivities begin in earnest Wednesday with the start of the two-day pro-am, where the top sponsors get to play in foursomes with the tour’s top players.
The week is capped by the three-day, 54-hole tournament beginning Friday and featuring many golf legends such as Jim Furyk, Ernie Els, Bernhard Langer, Vijay Singh and John Daly. Tour Champions features only players aged 50 and over.
Mickelson makes his second appearance in the DECC this year, after winning it in his first go-around last year — albeit not in front of a crowd.
Schoenfeld said the “Phil effect” is a legitimate force in helping fuel increased interest for spectators and sponsors.
“With Phil coming that certainly gives us a boost,” he said. “What has happened this week after we announced it is we got more calls for hospitality packages. And overall redemption of tickets will be higher in the past because Phil is coming.”
But even prior to last week’s announcement that Mickelson would participate, sponsorship interest was off to a roaring start, Schoenfeld said. That’s compared to last year’s pandemic-dampened event and even pre-pandemic.
“This year we have bounced back in a way I hadn’t imagined,” Schoenfeld said. “This will be our best year yet.”
Total revenue for this year’s event will surpass $7 million for the first time. That’s fueled by 125 corporate sponsors, including premier sponsors Riverstone Group, VCU Health and Visit Henrico.
Premier sponsors get teams in the Pro-Am, luxury chalets overlooking the 18th green, and 30-second spots that air during the tournament’s broadcast on the Golf Channel, among other perks.
Pro-Am sales also are at an all-time high this year, Schoenfeld said. Forty foursomes will play per day in the Pro-Am on Wednesday and Thursday, surpassing all previous years. Aside from premier sponsor pro-am teams, Schoenfeld said other groups have been opting just for a Pro-Am team at $16,800 a pop.
“The item that’s priceless is you get five hours on the course with one of the best golfers in the world,” he said.
Markel is the lead sponsor for the Pro-Am, which has been renamed this year in honor of Tom Farrell, the former longtime CEO of Dominion Energy who passed away earlier this year. Farrell was a key figure in bringing the tournament to Richmond.
Dominion Energy remains the title sponsor, having signed on for that spot since the tournament’s inception in 2016 and through at least 2029.
CCV also has agreed to host the tournament through 2029, another sign of its success in Richmond.
Schoenfeld emphasized the other benefit of the tournament’s success: its charitable component. The DECC has generated more than $5 million for charity to-date.
This year has a chance to produce the highest single-year charitable total, although it could be hampered somewhat by the increased cost of goods and services.
Like many other industries, the DECC has had to navigate pandemic-era hiccups in certain supply chains and labor pools, making it harder and more expensive to find items and workers.
On the supply side, Schoenfeld said Astroturf carpeting for setup has been hard to come by, as have golf carts. He said the tournament’s food and beverage and security vendors had to work harder than ever this year to secure enough workers for the event.
While those vendors have had a tough time finding paid workers, Schoenfeld said the DECC hasn’t had trouble getting volunteers to man the tournament for free.
“We did great with volunteers,” he said. “We’re at 1,100 which is our normal number.”
The DECC is part of the tour’s playoffs, leading up to the Schwab Cup Championship in Phoenix next month.
Going into the DECC, Bernhard Langer is the tour’s money leader, followed closely by Jim Furyk, Jerry Kelly, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Ernie Els. Mickelson is 26th on the money list, but has only played in four events year-to-date.