How do I organize a golf tournament?

Who doesn't like to golf for a good cause?

My home, Augusta, GA hosts the internationally recognized Master's Golf Tournament. Every year, the city shuts down for a week and we become the destination of choice for people from all over the world. If you're thinking of hosting a golf charity tournament, it's important to realize that most golf tournaments do NOT look like the Masters. And to be honest, yours doesn't have to be a billion dollar international event in order to be a success. You just need to make your expectations a bit more modest. The average golf tournament raises in the neighborhood of $5,000 after expenses are paid.

What does it cost to run a golf tournament?

Costs vary from tournament to tournament but here are some costs you can count on:

Venue - You'll need to arrange a golf course to host your tournament. Unless one of your board members happens to OWN a golf course, this will be your primary cost because you're tying up the entire course for a day.

Food & Drink - Depending on your schedule, you'll need to provide a meal and/or snacks for your golfers. Alcoholic drinks do not necessarily have to be included in the cost of the registration, so you can potentially have a cash bar. A good rule of thumb is that will need to increase the amenities as you raise the price of registration. A good meal after the round of golf can be an enjoyable social event for golfers who have been out on the links.

Special guest - Some golf tournaments raise their profile by bringing in (paying) a celebrity or two to come play the tournament. People will sometimes pay more to play golf with someone famous, and sponsors like the added appeal. Be careful who you pick though. This can be VERY expensive, and picking the wrong guest can be an event killer.

Awards or trophies - Nothing beats having a nice little trophy to hand out to the winners at the end. Costs on these will vary, but don't be cheap. If it's something that's nice or at least decent, it will go home with the winners as a reminder that they should participate next year. If you can make the trophy a status symbol in your community, even better.

Where does the money come from?

Golf tournaments for charity typically rely on several elements to bring in most of their money.

Team registrations

The first funding source is the cost to register a team for the tournament. A typical tournament entry fee ranges from $250-$2,500. To get the higher end, you will need some perks to make the entry fee worthwhile. The person or entity that you have hosting your event is essential to bringing in money in this manner because the host (or committee) will be responsible for publicizing the tournament to friends.

Golf tournaments typically target a business class audience and can be a good cultivation event for your major donors. Remember cultivating your major donors doesn't always have to be focused on some mission related activity. A golf tournament can provide a good opportunity to introduce your major supporters to members of the staff and board in a relaxed, comfortable, and fun environment.

Auctions, Silent Auctions, and Raffles

You can bring in additional revenue from your golf tournament by auctioning off or raffling off items that are appealing to your audience. Getting items and managing the auction or raffle will involve a lot of effort and organization. If you choose to use this fundraising format as a part of your tournament, you should have a separate committee that is responsible for soliciting items and administering the auction.

If you can demonstrate a high-profile crowd, businesses might be willing to donate auction or raffle items in order to show off their wares at your tournament. You'll need a professional looking sponsorship packet in order to convince business partners to make an in-kind donation. Another way to solicit auction and raffle items is to ask committee members to contact their friends in the business world to contribute an item to the tournament.

If you're doing a raffle, one good place to sell tickets is the registration table. Make sure that your registration team knows what to say to each registrant as they come in to pay for their registration. A couple of different raffle formats include the following (remember to check your local laws about getting a raffle license and rules):

  • 50/50 - Sell raffle tickets for a prize drawing for 50% of the proceeds from the raffle. Your organization keeps the other half. Sell one ticket for $5, 5 for $20. Or one for $50 and 5 for $200. Depends on your crowd.
  • Ball pick - Get 100-300 golf balls and number them with permanent marker. Sell balls, one for $10, 3 for $20, and let the golfers pick their balls out of the general pool and put it into another box. At the end of the tournament, the box of all the selected balls is taken out to the driving range and the whole bunch are thrown with great vigor. The ball that goes the farthest is the winner. The winner can get either a prize package, or a percentage of the total raffle receipts.
  • Standard raffle - Sell tickets for a prize winning draw at the end of the tournament.

Business Sponsorships

If you are expecting a good crowd of affluent business people, you can increase the return of your event by seeking business sponsorships. You can sell the opportunity to 'sponsor a hole' to businesses that will be able to put promotional materials or banners at the hole that they select. Getting sponsorships is a lot of work, however, especially since there seems to be a golf charity classic almost every weekend.

You'll need a committee of volunteer fundraisers who are willing to reach out to their business connections and get them to sponsor a hole for a good cause. The value of a hole sponsorship is typically not enough for it to make sense for your paid fundraising staff to pursue.

Ask presentation

Having an awards presentation at the end of the tournament provides an opportunity to thank the guests and potentially ask for further support. You have to be careful on this because the golfers have already paid a registration for the tournament. It might be better to use this time to do a presentation on your organization and thank the participants.

A better way might be let participants know that a representative of the organization would be reaching out to them to share about the organization. The goal of the personal follow-up is to turn participants into committed supporters of the organization. If they have a good time at the tournament, they should be open to hearing from one of your fundraisers.

Tournament Formats

The format of the tournament will determine the way participants play the game. There are a number of different formats for you to choose to spice things up. Golf tournaments usually use a 'shotgun start'; all of the teams of golfers start at different holes at the same time. Participants will sometimes be given a "Mulligan," which lets them to start one hole over if they go way over par. Mulligan's can also be 'sold' in return for a specified donation.

The Scramble

Team members select the best shot in each series of hits. Each member of the foursome will take their next shot from that location. This continues until the hole is complete. Players are able to drop their balls within one club length of the best ball, but no closer to the hole. The style of play allows for the best possible score and eliminates time wasted on looking for lost balls, fighting sand traps, etc. This is the most common format for a charity tournament.

The Best Ball

This format works for more advanced players who want to play their own ball throughout the entire round. At the end of each hole, the team's best individual score is recorded as the team score. In a variation, you can use a 'two best ball' format where the top two scores for each hole are counted.

Alternate Shot

Each foursome is broken into two teams that share one ball. The teams alternate who gets to hit the ball as they play the round. The first member hits the ball first, then the second member hits the ball, then back to the first, etc. through the entire round. The teams also alternate who tees off on every hole to ensure that the same person doesn't drive on every hole.

Golf Marathon

The golf marathon challenges golfers to play 100 holes or some other large number. Each golfer gets personal sponsors who pledge to donate a certain amount when they hit their target. Golfers who meet their pledge target are allowed to play for free, an added incentive for participants get outside donors.

Modified Stableford

This format works for individual competitors as well as teams. The score for each hole is worth a certain amount of points. The person or team with the highest score at the end of the day wins. Point values are as follows:

  • double eagle = 8 points
  • eagle = 5 points
  • birdie = 2 points
  • par = 0 points
  • bogey = - 1 point
  • double bogey or worse = -3 points.

Chapman Foursome

Two person teams compete with one another in this format. Both golfers tee off and trade balls for their second shot. Their teammates select the best ball after their second shots, and then they continue to play by alternating shots until the ball goes in the hole.


Players are rewarded for three things on each hole which gives them 1 point:

  1. The first player in the group to get it onto the green.
  2. The closest player to the pin once all members are on the green
  3. and the first player to get the ball in the hole.

The player with the highest number of points at the end of the round is the winner. This is one of the most popular formats for league tournaments and golf associations.


All players start with a set number of strokes based on their handicaps, and they play until they run out. The player that gets the farthest after using up their strokes is the winner.

Quota Tournament

Each player starts with a certain number of points based on their handicaps. They add points to that tally based on specific achievements like bogeys, pars, birdies, and eagles. The goal is to get 36 points and the winner is the player with the highest total points.

Fundraising got your head spinning? Don’t know quite where to start? Check out Key Concepts and learn the basic ideas that will help you build and maintain your donor base.

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