Golf Pro

How a bogey golfer has become the go-to guy for this year's PGA Champsionship (Hint: It's not what you think)

Michael Belot, current Evening UST MBA student, has been preparing for years forthe 2009 PGA Championship at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minn. – and the next few months will be even more intense. This will be his fourth major golf championship, and he hopes to make it the best yet.

Competitors will include Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia and Vijay Singh; thefield is usually the strongest of the entire season, even better than the other major championships of golf – the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open. But come Sunday afternoon, when the tournament is on the line, Belot might not even be able to tell you who is in contention, or what the leading score might be.

Belot (pronounced bah-lot) is not a professional golfer. He’s the tournament director for the 91st PGA Championship, the final major golf championship of each season.

While most of the expected 280,000 spectators come to see Tiger and the other approximately 150 top professional golfers from around the world, Belot might have more influence on whether guests really enjoy their time spent on the Hazeltine grounds. And come August, he will have been diligently planning for nearly three years to make this huge sporting event successful for all stakeholders – the players, the corporate sponsors and partners, the PGA of America organization, Hazeltine National Golf Club and its membership, the 1,000 credentialed media representatives covering the event, the volunteer corps, thousands of spectators and the Twin Cities community at large, which can expect a local economic impact of nearly $70 million.

Belot is a native of Kohler, Wis., and is a graduate of the University of Minnesota, wherehe studied sports management. He received a minor in business administration from the Carlson School of Management. His early management experience included stints as an operations intern with the Gophers’ men’s athletic department, the 1999 Greater Milwaukee Open of the PGA Tour and the 2001 NCAA men’s basketball Final Four hosted in Minneapolis. He headed up the operations for the 2002 PGA Championship at Hazeltine and the 2004 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits in his hometown of Kohler – a special treat for Belot to bring such a major event to the area in which he grew up.

The PGA of America had seen enough of his ability to lead in the spotlight to name himthe tournament director of the 2006 PGA Championship at Medinah Country Club outside of Chicago. Belot was only 27 – the youngest director in the PGA of America at the time, and he was going to lead the PGA’s major championship.

“It was very exciting, but a bit scary. I did experience a few sleepless nights,” Belot admits. “But once we began the event planning in earnest and I demonstrated I knew the business and I was capable, my age was no longer a factor.” It must not have been, as the Medinah event was a rousing success, and the PGA quickly tapped Michael to return to Hazeltine to direct the 2009 championship.

The role of a tournament director for a major golf championship has many facets – which make it both challenging and appealing, according to Belot.

“Every day is unique. I might have a meeting with local law enforcement and emergency personnel one day, be a guest on a local television morning show the next and visit with a CEO of a major corporation to discuss various aspects of the event on another,” he says. Nearly three years of planning, organizing, promoting and marketing – all for one week of (hopefully) flawless execution. Golf might be a game, but major tournament golf also is a big business. This is what drove Belot to consider graduate business study at St. Thomas.

“I was excited to return to the comfortable surroundings of the Twin Cities. Knowing Iwould be here through 2009 for the championship, I wanted to begin an MBA program as soon as possible,” Belot says. “St. Thomas was always mentioned by my friends in the Minnesota business community as a top program, and once I visited, I found it to be a great fit for me.”

Belot, who lives in Eden Prairie with his wife and infant son, has found a lot of value in his Evening UST MBA studies. He gained valuable insight about the use of Web and new media in a business communications course and increased his understanding of operations metrics through the MBA core managerial accounting course.

Belot appreciates these expanded tactical skills and knowledge, but it is the broad, strategic perspective he values most. “Overall, the program has provided me with a more developed business framework to better lead teams and to develop critical processes,” Belot notes. 

"Golf might be a game, but major tournament golf is also big business."

The early planning, coordinating and marketing for the 2009 PGA Championship began when Belot relocated to the Twin Cities in late 2006. His primary role as tournament director is to serve as the local “face” of the championship and to actively engage and build relationships with the host facility, the metro area communities, local corporations and the region’s golf fans. He speaks to numerous civic groups, chambers and business organizations throughout Minnesota promoting the event and how it benefits the host community, including charitable contributions to local organizations, significant tourism dollars and an international media spotlight for a week on the Twin Cities.

While the quality and challenge of the storied course upon which the world’s best golfers will compete is well-known, the Hazeltine National Golf Club also provides anotherelement critical to the event’s success: its membership. Like all major golf championship host facilities, Hazeltine members must step up to become volunteer chairpersons to lead and organize more than 60 tournament committees, providingmanagement of many vital functions for this huge event, including security, media relations, marketing, merchandising, scoring and player services.

Belot quickly assembled a full-time staff of five and opened an office on the Hazeltine grounds. In May, his on-site team will grow to include about 30 operations and hospitality college interns, and in August approximately 3,500 volunteers will contribute thousands of hours leading up to and during the tournament week.

While he receives extensive support and services from the PGA of America headquarters in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., the tournament office in Chaska serves as the marketing and operations headquarters for the 2009 PGA Championship. Histeam markets corporate hospitality opportunities to local and national companies that range from $5,000 private viewing areas at key locations on the course, to $375,000 private chalets able to host 150 guests each day. Dealing with that level of investment, Belot has made some special contacts through his corporate relationships.

“The main project for my UST MBA financial accounting course was to complete a company analysis and profile, and the professor encouraged us to try and speak with someone inside the company for added insight,” Belot says. “So I called a friend I worked with extensively during the Medinah championship to ask about his company.” The friend? It happened to be the CEO of Office Max, Sam Duncan. “He did providesome great perspective for my project,” Belot says with a smile.

Logistics and operations are other significant areas Belot must carefully manage, something that differentiates golf tournaments from other sporting events. “Other professional sports have permanent arenas or stadiums to host every game. We basically have to build a small city at the golf course to host over 30,000 people daily for one week,” Belot explains. “All the necessary support systems – food and beverage, parking and shuttles, security, waste management, scoreboards and video screens, etc., must be brought in or built to serve the guests.” Belot and his team work extensively with vendors and local agencies to make it all happen. Specialty companies provide the tents, bleachers, and barrier construction and teardown; catering and beverage companies manage concessions and corporate tent needs on the grounds; and private security firms work in conjunction with local law enforcement to juggletraffic and parking. Belot recognizes that all these aspects can affect the championship patrons’ experience and tries to ensure they run as smoothly as possible.

When asked what his biggest challenge is for the 2009 tournament, Belot quips, “Improving on 2002! That will be difficult.” But he also shares a sentiment unfortunately too common in recent times. “While we have enjoyed a lot of strong responses, we also have recognized we need to work with and help interested companies find the right level of investment during these difficult economic times. Many organizations still want to participate and support the event, but at levels appropriate to their situation and the business climate of their industry.”

Individual ticket package sales have been strong and generally will take off once the frigid Minnesota winter begins to subside and golf enthusiasts become energized by thoughts of returning to the links. Tickets for the last PGA held at Hazeltine in 2002 sold out months in advance, and Belot expects the same this year. “Minnesotans are avid golfers and eager, knowledgeable fans. Without a regular PGA tour stop, their appetite is strong when major tournaments do come to town, and we appreciate their great support.”

It seems as though the PGA of America is confident Belot will pull off another great championship at Hazeltine this summer, as they already have announced his next project, coming in September 2012. Belot was named the tournament director of the 39th Ryder Cup Matches. Perhaps the most exciting and widely viewed golf event in the world, the Ryder Cup features top professionals in an exhilarating team competitionbetween the United States and Europe. Like this year at Hazletine, Belot will return to a familiar environment and friends at Medinah, where he will continue to perform underpressure, directing everything outside the ropes. Inside the ropes? That’s easy – those guys are only playing golf.

About the author: Corey Eakins is the director of the Evening UST MBA Program.

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