The Little Book of Big Golf Promotions “Chapter 2” Published: January 1, 2006
by Ken Morton, Jr.
The ultimate power of promotions was told through a sequence of events at the golf complex I’ve been honored to represent for nearly all of my life.
The facility is the Haggin Oaks Golf Course. Built-in 1932, this 36-hole facility is a heavily used city-owned municipal golf course. The original head professional Tom LoPresti and my father Ken Morton, Sr. were working out of a shoebox-sized golf shop (around 800 square feet) in the mid-1970s. The nearby McClellan Air Force Base restricted the building of any addition or a larger golf shop.
That’s where this story picks up.
For 1970’s standards, the shop was doing unbelievably well. Sports Illustrated had just awarded the golf shop a merchandising recognition award. But both golf professionals knew that their growth in sales would be extremely limited if they didn’t think outside their walls and utilize creative promotions. So they put their heads together and came up with one. The first weekend in April 1975 marked the Haggin Oaks Golf Super Sale. It consisted of a few tables in the breezeway filled with leftover winter merchandise. It was a huge success.
Several years went by and this now-annual event was going gangbusters. In 1981, they rented an 18-wheeler trailer and parked it next to the breezeway. They filled it with golf equipment and extended the sale to a week. Sales doubled. The week’s sales even outpaced their Christmas numbers. People began to count on this event yearly as the place to get outfitted in clothing and clubs.
In 1985, they expanded the Super Sale again by leaving the cramped breezeway and trailer truck and renting a 2500 square foot tent. They renamed the event The Haggin Oaks Tent Show and made the sale ten days. Over the weekend, they held a demo day for all the club manufacturers with whom they did business. Named the Rep Weekend, they sold hundreds of sets of clubs. Two years later, they expanded to a 4,000 square foot tent and followed in 1989 with 8,000 square feet.
By the time they entered the 1990’s, this two-week-long event accounted for more than 25% of Haggin Oaks annual sales volume. It had become the golf event in Northern California. The Haggin team traveled to various golf companies’ warehouses and purchased closeout clothing, equipment, and bags, and brought them back for sale. They added trick-shot shows as well as Tour Professional appearances and clinics.
In 1993, the Haggin Oaks Tent Show was moved into a 12,000 square foot circus tent and made a month long. Nearly 8,000 people attended during the 2-day rep weekend. Sales for the month tripled the municipal golf shop average for a year. This little promotion had become awesome by any standards.
However, disaster struck in 1995.
On March 30th, in the middle of the night, Sacramento had one of its worst storms in history. Winds that night were clocked at over 50 MPH. We had unheard of rain totals. I received a call at approximately 3 A.M. from our security guard who was shouting and raving about the tent collapsing.
When I arrived at the golf course, I found our tent and everything in it in ruins. The two giant poles holding up the tent had been broken in two by wind gusts and the tent would billow up with air and then slam down onto the ground, smashing everything in its way. To make matters worse, the golf course had flooded and the tent was two feet underwater in places. Never has I been struck by such incredible fear. Fear of nature. Fear of what it would mean to my family’s business. Fear of what the future might bring.
That year’s Tent Show was canceled and the insurance company was brought in. At the time, it was the largest insurance claim in the history of golf. It still might be today. Over one million dollars of inventory was in the tent, either broken washed away, or ruined. I thank God that our insurance company took care of us.
We received a check at the end of April and were dropped by our insurance company just after the beginning of May. Looking back, it’s difficult to blame them. But you could say that their timing could have been a little better. Our next challenge was to find another insurance company to cover our tent show. It had become almost a third of our total business for the year and we couldn’t survive without it.
It wasn’t to happen. No other insurance company would take us on and allow a tent show to occur. That summer was a scary time. We didn’t have any idea how to produce a sale of the magnitude that our customers had come to expect. We decided that we would have to cut way back on staffing and services and give up our April promotion.
But then a funny thing happened.
Our creativity, the community, and the City of Sacramento came to the rescue. Our little promotion had become such a big part of Sacramento Golf and such a big source of revenue to the City, it was ruled unacceptable to end it. Suddenly, the McClellan Air Force building rules began to bend. The City green-lighted the golf shop we had been waiting on for over 20 years. It was a miracle.
On April 1, 1996, we opened an 8,400 square foot shop in the exact location of where the tent had been. Our April Sale was renamed (again) The Haggin Oaks Golf Super Sale and we were off and running.
We topped our best tent show numbers that April and our shop’s 12-month totals did three times what we had done the year before. It has evolved to become one of the highest volume green-grass stores in the country and my father’s pride and joy.
So, as we move ahead and talk about promotions, think about this story. One simple little promotional idea not only evolved into a gigantic annual sale but also saved our business and quite possibly our livelihood.
We are convinced that the only reason we’re in business and have the beautiful store we have today is because of that breezeway sale that started many years ago.