To promote the opening of its new PrairieFire Golf & Grill, the Byron, Ill. property hosted a “virtual invitational” tournament, with competitors all “playing” Kiawah Island Golf Resort’s Ocean Course out of the club’s eight indoor-outdoor hitting bays.
It isn’t easy to hype up a new bar and restaurant when food-and-beverage services are limited because of coronavirus restrictions. But that was the dilemma facing PrairieView Golf Club in Byron, Ill., with the opening last spring of another business on its property, PrairieFire Golf & Grill, a golf range that includes a full-service bar.
So the staff members at PrairieView realized they needed to get creative to introduce the facility to a larger community of golfers in the Rockford, Ill. area.
On Black Friday of Thanksgiving weekend, the property held a “virtual invitational” tournament at PrairieFire for 24 golfers, to take advantage of its eight indoor-outdoor, temperature-controlled hitting bays. The facility’s Toptracer technology allows golfers to hit balls out onto a targeted outdoor range and to play about 20 classic golf courses on a simulator.
“This was the first year of PrairieFire being open, so we were looking to have a signature event for that venue,” says Andrew Schlupp, PGA, the head professional at PrairieView since 2019. “We’re trying to come up with all sorts of events just to get people in the door. Our executive director thought of the idea. It definitely was a big hit.”
Each golfer played for a charity of choice to add a fundraising component—and additional interest—to the event.Schlupp secured about 20 sponsors for the tournament, so PrairieView was able to invite the golfers to play at no cost to themselves. In addition to recruiting players from his club, he also contacted the head golf pros of other properties in the surrounding area, to invite their club champions and runners-up to participate in the event.
“We tried to include people from all of the different courses in the area,” he says, and the field ended up with players ranging in age from 19 to 61.
With three people at each bay, PrairieView set up the simulator for the golfers to play the 7,300-yard Ocean Course at Kiawah Island (S.C.) Golf Resort (which will be the site of the 2021 PGA Championship).
“They played a long golf course, so the younger kids definitely had an advantage,” Schlupp says. “They used a lot of long irons and hybrids. I was trying to pick a course that didn’t have a lot of trees or trouble for the players.”
Check-in for the tournament began at 11:30 a.m., and the players had an hour to warm up. The event, which took about 5 1/2 hours to complete, included a three-hole, sudden-death playoff for second place.
Although the inside dining facilities were closed, servers still could bring food and drinks to the players at their bays.
Every player earned a donation for his charity. Marcus Smith, who grew up playing at PrairieView and now plays college golf for Eastern Michigan University, was the victor for the individual stroke-play tournament. He won $2,000 for his charity, 815 Alive, a Rockford, Ill., nonprofit that provides meals and help with homework for underprivileged children in the area.
Because of the food-and-beverage restrictions, PrairieView kept marketing efforts low-key for the inaugural event. But the property now plans for the tournament to become an annual event.
“This was a good way to get out feet wet,” Schlupp says. “We have had positive feedback from the players, and we want to grow the number of sponsors so that we can give more money to charities.”
PrairieView is also toying with the idea of changing the date for the event. Black Friday was selected because college students would be home for the Thanksgiving holiday, but the club found that many people had family events that conflicted with the date.
Schlupp expects to keep the number of participants at 24, however, because the golfers could play at a fast pace in the threesomes.
“We’ll certainly build upon it,” he says. “It was very well-received by the players. It will be nice to see the inside full and packed with spectators.”