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Players giving sponsors value for money

Hank Kuehne started the final day of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and ended it with an 80. He bolted off the course and headed straight to which of the following:
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a.) a courtesy car waiting to whisk him away.

b.) the edge of the 18th green to jump off a cliff.

c.) a hospitality tent for a meet-and-greet session with corporate sponsors.

Having already suffered through six hours on the course at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, the former U.S. Amateur champion spent nearly an hour with guests and clients of Franklin Templeton.

Kuehne has plenty of company these days. PGA Tour players are going to greater lengths to make sure the people footing the bill -- corporate sponsors -- are getting their money's worth.

"We started working with our players last year in terms of the need to over-deliver for our sponsors," PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem said. "In an era when costs have gone up, we need to generate more value. We want the strongest possible customer satisfaction."

The pleasant surprise is that the tour isn't having to twist arms.

The four 2003 major champions -- Mike Weir, Jim Furyk, Ben Curtis and Shaun Micheel -- attended a corporate reception at the Mercedes Championships, along with defending champ Ernie Els.

Peter Jacobsen and Fred Funk were the featured guests at a pro-am party during the Sony Open.

Chad Campbell, Steve Pate, Jay Delsing, Olin Browne and David Morland were among nine players who went to a cocktail reception for Chrysler and its VIPs during the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic.

Texans Mark Brooks and J.L. Lewis took part in a cooking competition during the FBR Open in Phoenix.

Zach Johnson, the Nationwide Tour player of the year, joined Weir, Kuehne and Mark O'Meara for a Wednesday night cocktail reception at Pebble Beach, as CBS analysts roamed the room and allowed guests to ask questions.

Players receive nothing extra from sponsors for their participation.

"We all have a responsibility to help out," Weir said. "We're lucky to be playing for a lot of money. The sponsors are putting up a lot of money, and they want a little value out of it. You don't want to take, take, take all the time."

It's called the Player Involvement Program, and it came about at a time when everything appears to be running smoothly on and off the golf course.

In 2003, an annual report compiled by The Sports Business Journal ranked the PGA Tour No. 1 in overall sponsor satisfaction. Finchem wants to make sure it stays that way.

"He's always trying to make the players realize -- and he should -- that making sure sponsors are happy is a very big priority out here," said Brad Faxon. "He likes the fact we're either No. 1 or No. 2 in all the surveys for sponsor satisfaction.

"The answers he's getting (from sponsors) is, 'We need to be closer to the players."'

Corporations pay about $7 million for the rights to sponsor a PGA Tour event, and Finchem believes they deserve more than having their name in the title and a good location to wine and dine clients.

Most times, the closest they get to the players are in front of a plasma TV in the hospitality tent.

"Other sports have lost their relations with the fans and sponsors," said Olin Browne. "We're simply stressing that we need to interact more with the people who foot the tab."

Fred Couples understood the importance before there was such a thing as a Player Involvement Program. Chatting with reporters five years ago, he was asked what he thought about Bernie Williams signing an $87.5 million deal with the New York Yankees.

"If I signed that contract, I would walk and hold hands with everyone in the gallery," Couples said at the time.

That might be going to an extreme. Still, Couples joined Weir on bar stools during the FBR Open and took questions from the audience in a corporate tent for an hour.

"It was easy," Weir said. "It's not like they're asking us to spend the whole day in a corporate tent."

Finchem said the players are not required to do anything. The tour has a list of two dozen ideas for players to get involved, such as going to a pro-am draw party, visiting headquarters of a sponsor located in town or meeting corporate clients at a cocktail reception.

There was some concern that the next generation of players might not realize what goes into their paycheck. As Faxon said, "Some players feel like just coming out here to play, they're doing everyone a favor."

Finchem said that hasn't been the case, much to his surprise.

"The last three years, the rookie classes we've had have been very strong in terms of guys who really get it, who want to do the right thing," he said. "And they want to market themselves."

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