The Inaugural Championship: Mission Accomplished
Bringing to life a Korn Ferry Tour tournament two years in the making.
About the Huntsville Championship
The Huntsville Championship joined the Korn Ferry Tour, the sole developmental tour for the PGA TOUR, with its inaugural event in April 2021. All 50 PGA TOUR cards are awarded to Korn Ferry Tour professionals, with 25 awarded to those that hold a spot on the top 25 points list in the regular season, and the remaining 25 awarded to the top players 25 in the Korn Ferry Tour finals. The host course, The Ledges, opened in 2000 as an award-winning design by Hurdzan/Fry GCD, Inc., with designer Mike Hurdzan earning the “Designer of the Year” award by Golf Magazine in 2003 for his work on the course. The Huntsville Championship, the Korn Ferry Tour, The Ledges and the City of Huntsville have agreed to a five-year deal through 2025.
Prepare for Launch
When Knight Eady and the Huntsville Championship signed on as an official Korn Ferry Tour tournament, the goal was clear: ensure the Huntsville Championship earns the title of the most premier stop on the Korn Ferry Tour. While we knew this would be a hard title to achieve, we were up for the challenge. Huntsville had not hosted a professional golf event in the city since 1998 when the Korn Ferry Tour was called the Nike Tour, and we did not have any photo or video content to utilize as a first-year event. We were starting from ground zero.
In addition to these challenges, we had to cancel the inaugural event set for April 2020 due to the COVID-19 global pandemic. But we knew the Huntsville community to be passionate about their city. If we positioned the event correctly, the community stakeholders would be willing to provide the community support needed to ensure the event’s success.
Cleared for Takeoff
Our biggest goal for the event involved raising awareness of the Huntsville Championship and the Korn Ferry Tour. We needed to educate the community and corporations that this was not just another pay-to-play golf event but a professional tournament showcasing some of the best golfers in the world. The path to the PGA TOUR passed through Huntsville in April, and our mission was to make this known across the community.
We needed to find a way to relate to the city and catch their attention, starting with the event’s brand. NASA has been an integral piece of the Huntsville and Madison community since 1960. Knight Eady’s creative team built a unique brand based on a space theme. The Huntsville Championship trophy mimicked the design of a rocket, the pin flag in the logo is sitting on the moon and other design elements brought in the space theme.
After the 2020 event cancellation, we developed the “New Launch Plan” campaign as a creative way to release our newly set 2021 tournament dates in a time of uncertainty the entire world and sports community faced. The “New Launch Plan” campaign included a series of social media graphics that included astronaut, moon, space background and other intentional design elements to tie in and connect to the space theme that the brand had claimed.
In addition to the graphics, our creative team launched the new tournament dates with a video that cut back and forth from footage of the rocket launch and a golfer stepping up to the tee. The next step of the mission was to implement a strategic plan to create as much buzz as possible amongst the community and local media. While our sales team was generating corporate community fundraising, our strategy and creative team leveraged our owned, earned, and paid channels to ensure the Huntsville Championship brand earned as many impressions and engagements possible across various platforms: social media and TV spots, radio spots, billboards and more.
While we had a well-rounded launch plan, every launch plan has challenges with a first-time launch. One challenge was the lack of content that naturally comes with an event that has not taken place before. One way that we worked to correct this challenge was by hosting a photoshoot at The Ledges. The Ledges course is rated one of the best courses in the state and is naturally stunning. With beautiful pictures of the course and drone footage of all holes and the city of Huntsville, we felt we had the content to ensure our mission and launch could move forward as planned. With the turn of the new year, we knew it was time to shift focus on our pre-launch plan and ramp up our social media presence. Our content consisted of highlighting holes and where fan experience venues would be built, providing insight to potential fans about what tournament week consists of while also providing value to our sponsors.
Additionally, we created sponsorship announcement graphics for our tournament sponsors announcing their partnership of the event in their specific capacity, hopefully sparking an interest in other potential leads.
As the tournament month approached, we turned up the engines with our course highlight countdown and “meet the top 10” campaigns. The Ledges has a unique tradition of naming each hole on their course related to the nature, structure, history, difficulty, etc., of the hole. We wanted to highlight this unique piece of The Ledges while also showcasing the beauty of the course. With the new popularity in Instagram reels, our creative and strategy team created 15-second reels of each hole, animating the hole name, par and length. The song choice was vital, and we spent time initially adding a song to each reel based on the hole name or the city of Huntsville, such as “Fly Me to the Moon” or “Rocket Man,” to create hype and engagement on the reels. This allowed our followers, Korn Ferry Tour staff and players to get a sneak peek of what the course looks like and create more buzz leading into the tournament.
We wanted our fans to have a more significant idea of what the Korn Ferry Tour entails and specific players they should be on the lookout for while on-site. The “meet the top 10” highlighted the top 10 players on the Korn Ferry Tour points list. Our strategy team researched their hometowns, colleges, previous Korn Ferry Tour victories and more to make each post specific to the player and their background.
By the end of tournament week, we noticed many successful metrics from our flight. We increased our Instagram following by 78 percent, and our Twitter following by 48 percent. The content earned over 339,022 impressions, 74,234 in reach and 20,598 engagements. We surpassed our ticket sales budget of $5,000 with a total of $18,200, and total tournament week attendance was over 5,513, a high number for a Korn Ferry Tour event and a first-year event. Additionally, our volunteer program sold out before the tournament, with over 480 volunteers on-site during tournament week.
Our first launch into the Rocket City was a success through an engaging, creative and unique strategic plan, and we look forward to our launch plan for the next five years.