One of Us

Mark Berman

Posted

Tell me about The PXG Women’s Match Play Championship.

This is the first professional women’s golf tournament ever in St. Johns County and the first

in Jacksonville since 1976, so that’s quite special and should be enough on its own to stir up some interest, but there is a lot more to it.

It’s a series of two back-to-back tournaments, with the first event being a stroke-play tournament on King and Bear, and the second tournament being the Match Play Championship on Slammer and Squire, which will be seeded by the first event.

If that’s not enough, we’re wrapping it around a collaboration with Generation W, making the entire 10 days a celebration of women’s initiatives in sports, in the office and in the community. So networking, mentoring, education and entertainment – and open to the general public.

And finally, we are raising money for our charity partner, Investing in Kids (INK!), who supports underfunded public schools in St. Johns County.

It’s all shaping up to be a big deal and a lot of fun – while also doing some important work outside the ropes.

How is it going so far?

Everything is coming together perfectly, really. With PXG as our title sponsor, they add a level of immediate credibility to the tournament and to what we’re trying to accomplish, shining a light on the developmental side of women’s professional golf.

We will have a limited field of 64 of the best non-LPGA professional female players in the world, and that field is filling quickly – as we expected. The talent at this level is astounding, and even the most casual fan will have a blast seeing them. Most of these players will be playing at the LPGA level, so it will be cool to be able to say, “I saw her when…”

There will be some familiar names out here, too, including a few local pros like Catherine O’Donnell, Elsa Diaz, Camden Morrison and Hannah Berman, who played at PVHS and JU.

Where and when will it be held?

The tournament dates are Oct. 26-Nov. 5, again with two separate events. So, the first event, the stroke-play portion, will be held Oct. 26-28. We’ll have a couple of days off for the players to rest and to take in our North Florida attractions, and then back on the course Nov. 1 for the match-play portion.

We’ll also have the Generation W event in between the two tournaments, and we’re working on what that will look like.

How will it play out over those two weeks?

Players will start arriving on about Oct. 22. They’ll play practice rounds, visit our local attractions and the area. Things will start heating up on the 24th with the Official Player Pairings Party for the INK! Charity Pro-Am presented by Davidson Realty, which is on the 25th.

Then, balls in the air bright and early on the 26th. Again, a couple of days off, and it’s time for head-to-head battle in the match-play segment. That will wrap up on Nov. 5 under the Spire of the World Golf Hall of Fame, where we’ll crown the winner of the PXG Women’s Match Play Championship.

The players are really excited about the match-play portion, because it’s a format they almost never get to play. So, this event has everything they’re looking for: championship courses, a big city with things to do, a chance to be somewhere for more than a few days and a change in format. Should be a great way for them to end their playing season.

How did you get the idea for this tournament?

Like any passion project, it started with personal experience. When my daughter decided to play for a living — she played her junior, high school and college golf right here, actually — and we started planning her rookie schedule, we were taken a bit by surprise at how few playing opportunities there are beneath the LPGA level. Like most of her peers, she’s an amazing player but she isn’t one of those three or four players likely to go from college golf right to the LPGA, but still confident that with more experience she can get there.

I say this part with only applause for the men’s game — good for them for having so many opportunities — but there are 30 or so men’s developmental tours on which guys at this level can make a decent living and improve.

For women, we discovered there are only two real developmental tours (we’re trying to lose the phrase “mini-tour,” because there is nothing miniature about the talent out there), and it is impossible to make a living. In fact, a female pro at this same level could win every event she plays in and not earn $50,000 — and it costs about $65,000-70,000 to even try, plus those tours ended in September.

So not only can these women not make a living, but there aren’t many “jobs” available, and they can’t go to work from October to April. So … long story short, our mission is about creating playing and earning opportunities as much as it is showing our market how amazingly strong and entertaining the women’s game is at this level.

I think we’re also helping the county put up a big “Women Welcome” sign, and hopefully adding something to our local economy.

Tell me how this tournament goes beyond golf and extends to women’s initiatives.

I’m just a #GirlDad who sees the same lack of parity everyone else sees. Whether it’s on the course or another sport, in the office or in the community, my role as a GirlDad and a husband/son/cousin/business owner is to help point it out and, thankfully, I guess I’m able to do something about it — at least in the little corner I can try and affect.

As a dad first (regardless of gender), I realized that our kids aren’t really getting any Real World 101 education — boy or girl, athlete or not. From changing a tire to understanding personal finance, they just don’t teach that stuff. As the dad of a former college student-athlete, I also recognize that the time one’s sport takes doesn’t leave a lot of room for critical post-college necessities like networking, internships and connecting to people outside their sport.

So, since our tournament is really for the younger professional athlete — call it a transition tour, if you will — the opportunity became as much about how do we make it bigger, more important and more valuable to the athletes and the community? And how do we tie into the community at large, whose young people might have the same dilemma?

And this is where Generation W comes in — to create the programming and do what they do best, which is empower women and girls and educate the rest of us.

Are there any partners in this tournament you’d like to mention?

Donna Orender and Generation W for embracing this concept and offering to be part of what is a pretty outside-the-lines idea. PXG stepping up as the title sponsor and really sharing with us their platform and shining their bright lights on this event.

Our founding partners, Sqairz Golf, who is assigning a big focus to their women’s golf shoe line, and locally, Murgado Automotive Group and their Bentley and Maserati dealerships, who saw this event as a way to be a good neighbor, understanding that creating opportunities for women in sports and in the real world is important.

Which ties right into our partnership with INK!, who supports creating opportunities in public schools.  Really, this whole production is about creating opportunities. And doing that takes a lot of partners, and I’m grateful to Tim Iley of On the Green Consulting for taking on the operations side, as well as the golf opps and F&B teams at World Golf Village who will no doubt put on 10 days of amazing.

Tell me about MediaShare Consulting Group and your work there.

We’re really a marketing strategy company and act as an outsourced in-house marketing department for the clients we serve, only a few at a time to whom we can give our maximum attention. We’re like a fiduciary for our clients, and sponsorship and events are often something we recommend to them if it fits.

Golf being so culturally important to our home market, we felt it was time Jacksonville had a professional women’s tournament. Since no one else seemed to be producing one, well, why not us?

What is your background? How did you get to where you are today professionally?

Not surprisingly, I’ve been in the golf business for about 25 years. But I’ve also been in the restaurant business, fantasy sports, orthodontics, body armor … as a PR person, events, promotions, advertising … I guess I’m kind of a Swiss Army Knife of marketers.

My personal road map is far from a straight line, but the common thread is really being a storyteller of brands and people.

What do you like most about living on the First Coast?

Being from Boston, I’ll be trite and say the weather, but what I have always liked about this part of Florida specifically is how welcoming the community is — and I said that 25 years ago when I first got here.

We often joke that in Boston, if you didn't come off the Mayflower it can be a challenge. The First Coast is not without its challenges here for an “outsider,” but it’s certainly easier to carve your own path.  Friends of mine call Ponte Vedra the Cape Cod of Florida. I’ve always felt an “all in it together” vibe to our market in which we are building something special that isn’t South Florida.

How do you like to spend your free time?

I’m working on getting my golf game back, having put it aside for the last 12 years while joyfully spending my golf time and money on my daughter’s game. I love simply hanging out with my family and friends in whatever form that takes.

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