This two part series goes behind the scenes of the strategy and operations of producing a major PGA sanctioned golf tournament.
PART 2 - Strategic Planning in the Face of COVID-19
PART 1 - Operations (Click Here to Read Part 1)
I know it's no surprise to any of you when I say our industry is filled with some of the most resilient, strategic, entrepreneurial individuals in the world. One of the most amazing aspects about my job is getting to speak with so many of you on a regular basis. Especially in a time like this.
It's absolutely incredible to see the actions being taken by many of you to adapt and survive through all of this. It's also incredible to see so many of you willing to share your thoughts, advice, and best practices. The saying "A rising tide lifts all ships" has never been more relevant. So thank you.
One of those executives that embodies all of this is Andy Harmatys, SVP of Tournament Affairs at the Farmers Insurance Open.
Andy shares some incredible thoughts on how he's steering the ship. Here are some the things we discuss:
- His strategic planning thoughts in the face of COVID-19.
- How major PGA Tour Events share operational best practices.
- The top 5 operational items that will need to change post-COVID.
- The opportunity COVID has created.
- His career advice, professional journey and more...
Back row left to right: Bryce Leon, Joe Reda, Alice Coolbaugh, Nick Schling, John Coolbaugh Seated: Andrew Harmatys, Joe Branch
I appreciate you doing this Andy. You ready to dive in?
Absolutely. I will say, I am not one to talk about myself but I definitely enjoy being a part of the conversation about how we can evolve our trade. So hopefully some of the nonsense I put out there will make sense and be somewhat helpful.
Where did you grow up?
West Allis, Wisconsin. Westside of Milwaukee
Going off on a little tangent, I hear Mom Harmatys is pretty famous for her charcuterie boards. what’s that all about and better yet what makes for a good one?
My mom does assemble some ridiculous charcuterie boards (picture attached of the one she made for Nick’s birthday). She is so passionate about cooking/baking and loves hosting people. Pre-wrapped food never existed in our house growing up or even now. Everything was and is from scratch. If I hadn’t been a runner, I’m sure I would a lot bulkier with a case of the sugars.
Photo Cred: Momma Harmatys
If you’re friends were a little tipsy, how would they describe you?
If it’s a childhood friend, they would probably say I’m extremely sarcastic, very lucky, a workaholic, and overly cautious.
Over the past few years, you and now your Director of Operations, Nick Schling, are on a committee within the golf world called T.O.C. What does that stand for, what’s the purpose and what are some of the topics you discuss?
That's the Tournament Operations Committee, which was created by the PGA TOUR for PGA TOUR events. It is a platform for TOUR events to share information. We all face similar challenges in the industry. It’s a great way to share ideas, collaboratively tackle issues, and showcase best practices. You serve for 2 years and then you time out. I came off the committee right as Nick was getting on. It’s an honor to have back-to-back representatives from one event and it highlights our depth of staff. TOC consists of several higher-ups that represent the PGA TOUR and then roughly 7 operational leads from 7 different PGA TOUR Tournaments. Each of those 7 individuals on the committee represents about 5 additional tournaments and operational leads. The committee members reach out to their 5 tournaments that are under their umbrella to see if they have any pressing topics that they would want addressed at the next meeting (they meet every couple of weeks). Right now, it is focusing on the impact of Covid obviously, but public safety, risk management, and hospitality product mix evaluation are usually staple topics.
Nick Schling (Left), Andy Harmatys (Right)
How did you get into the business?
I started by flipping burgers and taking out trash at a local municipal golf course called Brown Deer G.C. I started working in the clubhouse when I was 16, so 1997. The PGA TOUR hosted an annual event there called the Greater Milwaukee Open. I started interning for that event in 2001 and was hired full-time a year after college in early 2005. I was making $26k/year, living in my Mom’s basement, and loving life. Looking back, I think they gave me the job because they couldn’t find anyone else, but it was great experience for me. Back in those days you had to do absolutely everything - Operations, Ticketing/Credentialing, Volunteers, etc.
When I first started, we didn’t even have a website; my uncle Dan and I built the tournament’s site. I would go from updating copy for the website at our tournament office, which was offsite, to hopping in my car to drive a couple miles to check on build-out at the course.
This too was before cell phones, so you’d go out to work on the golf course, go to the office and listen to messages, call people back and then go back to golf course. Now, when I look back, it truly blows my mind that we got anything accomplished.
Left to Right: Peter Nielsen, Geoff Campion, Andrew Harmatys, Joe Westphal, Dan Blackman
You recently took on a new and expanded role, can you describe what that entails now?
This came about because our CEO/Tournament Director departed last August for a new opportunity. The current COO at the time, Marty Gorsich, was promoted to the role of CEO of the Century Club & I was elevated from VP of Operations to SVP of Tournament Affairs and Events.
That means I am now responsible for the events full PNL top & bottom line, and I focus a lot more on the day-to-day operations of the organization and the strategic long-term business planning, as opposed to just the events. With a more public facing role I’m having to spend more time in meetings, which means shaving and tucking in my shirt more often! I have owned the same suit since 2011 and at times it gets pretty snug, giving employees and peers some good ammo for jokes over the years.
Spoken like a true ops pro.
Hah. Honestly, it’s great to have a new challenge and I am enjoying it.
But I will say, we (Marty and I) were able to absorb the extra work and responsibilities because we have someone like Nick Schling on our team. Having someone I completely believe in and trust has allowed me to focus on more strategic long-term planning. Things that, when I was doing the role by myself, never had a chance to really dig into future-facing items, and now I am working on those bigger ideas.
This has proven to be especially critical in a time like this.
Heidi Kolbiaz Raymond
Given the time we are in, how does your planning, operations change in a post Coronavirus environment?
Planning is an ever-evolving, fluid process. Especially in today’s environment. How to plan changed yesterday, then again today, and it will change again tomorrow. There are so many current unknowns, variables and questions leading to more questions and a lot of questions can’t be answered right now.
However, in times like these, you can’t be a deer in headlights. In my opinion, you can’t sit still. You must start planning for every potential scenario. Building various models. For us it’s looking at an operational plan for:
- Our event with No Fans (Made for TV)
- Our event with Limited Fans (No Hospitality)
- Our event with Reduced Fans (with Hospitality)
- Business as usual but with various tiered percentage decreases in sponsorship, ticketing, concession stand revenue, build-out, etc.
That said, we start all scenarios with health & safety and end with financial implications. We have created an extensive list of questions and we have virtually gone line item by line, expenditure by expenditure in our financial detail and asked those questions of each model. Boiling it down to the basics, like: what is required at the bare minimum just to execute the event? We also have to revisit every contract and truly understand what we are responsible for, before even selling anything at all. Contract review is an absolute critical part of this process right now. It’s always important, but it just has heightened importance right now.
As we’re going through this, the reality is that some of these paths unfortunately lead to dark places, but they need to be explored. The things we are reminding ourselves in this process are: you have to stay flexible; no one is going to get it all right; control what you currently can and as things become solidified check them off the list; focus on the big dominos first (understand those major hurdles & questions that will need to be cleared first).
The approach we are taking is to focus on a breakeven, survival mindset for the event while still delivering a quality product/experience for our title sponsor, guests, the players, all while still supporting local charities.
What are the top 5 things that you think you will need to change and what do you think the impact will be?
That is one of those things that can quickly spiral. But like I said, you’re not doing your event, staff and fans justice if you’re not thinking all these things through with the various alternatives and opportunities. Here are a few things we’re digging into:
Food & Beverage:
Basically every one of our hospitality venues & general concessions are being deconstructed because of the potential food safety implications.
One of the methodologies we are taking is walking through every aspect of that experience, starting with the rules and regulations on vendors and suppliers, to the build and design itself, to the flow of workers, guests, sponsors, etc.
For example, when you think about VIP & sponsor tents, we’re taking a hard look at: design and layouts, spacing considerations, the reality of private buffets and bars versus plated or prepackaged meals (no buffets), no self-serving utensils, increased demand for premixed canned cocktails, no more ice water tubs (ice coolers) for clients to grab their own beverages, increased need for refrigerators, no unattended items (snacks); longer lines; cashless; mobile ordering; and eliminating communal tables.
When you think about concession stands, at this point (and this may change), who’s going to want to touch a condiment pump? You’re going to need to look at individual condiment packages, but definitely not placed in a bowl for everyone to grab. No more build-your-own Bloody Mary bar or add your own lettuce, tomato, or onion to your burger. No more grab-and-go items on counter that multiple customers can touch, but then not purchase.
Green & Sustainability:
One area that is concerning is sustainability. I really think there is going to be a clash between safety and sustainability. For example, it’s going to be hard to get around an increase in single-use items like wipes, hand sanitizer bottles, cleaning product bottles, gloves, food packaging, etc. without an increase in trash produced.
Public Shuttles/Buses – we’ve had a few conversations with our shuttle provider, who is already looking at fogging (disinfectant treatment) after every directional trip. But if that happens, then it potentially takes 20 minutes to clear out and put back into service. So, if you need a constant flow and you are having to take a bus out of service, then you might have to double the number of busses, increase the number of drivers, etc. You also might need to hire more bus porters that are wiping down every seat, every headrest, etc. Then the question is whether people are even going to want to take a bus. I think a lot of people are going to want to use their own vehicle and the demand for onsite parking will grow.
Physical Fan Engagement:
We’re having to think through all our traditional on-site activations that require physical touching and closer communal engagement. This will need to change in a number of ways. Whether it is how you use touch pads for a sign-up to win, props for pictures, autograph signings, how you scan tickets, use physical tickets, use RFID, etc.
We’re already in regular discussions on ways to still give our guests a great experience but remove the physicality of it all.
Right now, SOLO, our ecology team, is just waiting to get back after it, and when they come back, they are going to have so many additional responsibilities. From package fogging for shipping and receiving to refilling hand sanitizer station pumps to constantly wiping down guard rails, door handles, benches, etc. They are going to need more staff and the accountability of their performance will completely change. As you know we are currently working with you (LENND) on how to implement a cleaning log through your platform to ensure those tasks are continuously being completed. It will be much more about health and safety as opposed to ensuring there isn’t any trash blowing across a fairway during the broadcast.
It is just what we are going to have to do to ensure a safe environment, the reality is that all of these additional items will have a major impact on the budget.
The interesting thing is that although our current situation is challenging (and it may change), I think there is going to be a lot of opportunity for vendors. I think you’re really going to see a consolidation of vendors, so you can minimize the number of onsite personnel to minimize the health risk. But I also think there will be an opportunity to source more local vendors and more opportunities for vendors to get creative on ways to solve the different things I mentioned.
Everything you’re currently doing is enveloped in strategic planning of some sort, but how do you incorporate and prioritize strategic planning within the day to day operations at any point throughout the year?
Strategic planning is nonstop. Nick and I have a thread that we are continuously adding to - random ideas, operational issues, things we overheard, saw at another event, read about, ANYTHING that we want to remember. We are continuously trying to figure out ways to make anything and everything better.
I’ll tell you; feedback is so important. We want to know if something didn’t meet someone’s expectations. The only way we can address an issue and make improvements, is by being made aware of it. It makes me irate when someone tells me about an issue after the fact. Tell me right when it happened. 90% of the time it doesn’t have to wait until tomorrow or next year to be fixed.
What does the annual ops planning cycle look like for you?
It’s a 14-month sales cycle. Our biggest asset is the event itself. Sales side or operational side. The sales team needs to be equipped going into the current event with the information of what the following year’s event will have to offer from a hospitality standpoint. On the other side, getting a potential new vendor to actually spend some time at the event is invaluable. Easier to engage.
Do you have any advice for those wanting to build a career in events (especially post CV)?
It’s not always great, but when it hits, you will love it. It’s worth the long hours and the grind. Just know that talent will ultimately recognize talent. Just keep after it and you will get noticed.
Enough said :)
We love what we do.
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To learn why some of the most respected event teams trust Lennd to power their operations or sign up for a demo: www.lennd.com
FARMERS INSURANCE OPEN
The Farmers Insurance Open is a professional golf tournament on the PGA Tour, played in the San Diego, California, area in the early part of the season known as the "West Coast Swing". The event is organized by The Century Club of San Diego. www.farmersinsuranceopen.com
CENTURY CLUB OF SAN DIEGO
The Century Club of San Diego is a San Diego-based charitable organization, established in July 1961. They are the organizers of the Farmers Insurance Open, an annual PGA Tour golf tournament at Torrey Pines Golf Course in San Diego, solely for charitable purposes. The proceeds of the Farmers Insurance Open often go to the Monarch School, although in 2011 they reported to have donated over $1.3 million to over 200 charities. The Century Club are also major fundraisers of the San Diego County Junior Golf Association, investing in San Diego golf education. www.centuryclubsd.org