Golf is one of Asia’s most popular sports among the business community. The opportunity to network and make deals on the green has long been recognised. The status of the game too is a draw for business professionals eager to impress bosses or clients.
As a result, major companies are happy to put their brand name to golf events. At the UBS Hong Kong Open, the lineup of sponsors showed their efforts at building important relationships with other organisations and customers – both current and potential.
From November 12 to 15 last year, professional golfers went head-to-head for a prize pot of US$2.5million. It went to the eventual victor, Frenchman Gregory Bourdy, who produced a three-under-par 67.
In its 50th year, the four-day Open was held at Fanling Golf Course. UBS has been the title sponsor for the past five years.
Professional players from the Asian Tour and PGA European Tour, accompanied players from the Hong Kong Golf Association, Hong Kong PGA, Canadian PGA and other invitations. In total, the tournament had a playing field of 144 golfers.
The golfers were accommodated at the JW Marriott and the Regal Riverside Hotel, both sponsors of the Hong Kong Open.
JW Marriott took on an unprecedented role – catering not just for the public, but also the sponsors’ and partners’ marquees. Better known as a five-star business hotel, the larger scope of duties showed UBS’ confidence in JW Marriott’s catering capabilities.
Angie Cheung, director of event management at JW Marriott Hotel Hong Kong, headed the catering team. She functioned as the communication bridge between her kitchen staff, the other F&B sponsors and the partners.
The preparation process began two months before the event. Their first site inspection was made at the golf course which had no infrastructure for an event of such a large magnitude in place. Nonetheless, the event came together quickly, largely due to the past four years of experience.
The team had to allocate the areas for each marquee, the media centre and the storage areas for the food. They also had to source for power and water supplies to facilitate the mobile kitchens. A 5m-long container was loaned to serve as a storage unit for food and beverage.
Part of the planning process involved getting more manpower. JW Marriott utilised some of its own staff, but as the hotel still had to function as normal, they recruited hospitality students from the local YWCA. Aside from briefing them on the ground plans, the students were also given additional training to offer the service levels JW Marriott expected.
Training involved operating the coffee machines sponsored by Nestlé Nespresso – something even the 20-odd permanent staff had to learn to use.
On top of that, Cheung and her team had to deal with cutbacks. “We used wagyu beef the year before, but this year we had to use Angus beef,” she explained. Champagne and cigars were also cut. In total, she estimated approximately a 25 percent reduction compared with previous years.
However, for JW Marriott, the return on investment was considerable, reporting profits of over 52 percent.
Other than title sponsor UBS, Emirates Airline also participated for the fifth year running as the official airline.
Edwin Lau, Emirates’ vice-president, Hong Kong and China, said on sponsorships: “We look for a similar cast of branding and a similar cast of clientele.”
Emirates regarded UBS, a large investment bank with an established presence around the world, as an organisation similar to itself.
During the event, golf enthusiasts played at the Emirates Spectator Charity Hole-in-One Challenge for a chance to win a business class return ticket to Dubai with the airline.
Proceeds were donated to the Little Life Warrior Society, which supports child cancer patients, survivors and their families.
The “Emirates A380 Par 4” challenge at the seventh hole also supplemented the charity donations. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Hong Kong Open, a donation was made to the Youth Outreach Charity for every professional who birdied the hole over the four days of play.
Spectators also had a chance to win 200,000 miles from Skywards, the frequent flyer programme of Emirates, by correctly answering a question related to the recent increase of 10kg in baggage allowance across all classes of travel.
Lau added: “For Emirates, sports sponsorships are a long-standing way to interact with customers and passengers in an informal, enjoyable environment.
“This activity helps us fulfill our commitment to the communities of Hong Kong and China, which constitute our most dynamic markets in the region.”
Omega, BMW, Heineken and local telecommunications carrier PCCW entertained with their marquees and set-ups around the event grounds.
While UBS has ended its sponsorship of the Hong Kong Open after five years, sponsorship remains a key means of establishing brand presence, increasing awareness, and showcasing a company’s capabilities.