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Berner Golf Classic boasts fresh student vigor

Berner Golf-young guysStudent energy injects fresh vigor into the annual Wes Berner Homecoming Golf Classic, using it as a learning experience for sport business students; its revenue will benefit all Stetson athletic programs.

A double eagle dose of youthful vigor and fresh ideas is being pumped into a tired homecoming golf tournament this fall to put it on the leader-board as a major athletic fundraiser and a real world experience for sport business students.

“It’s exciting to be the first class on campus to be in charge of planning and hosting an event this large,” said Adriana Jaimes, a senior from Palm Bay.

“This is real life with real people expecting a real event,” said her classmate, Garron Workman, a senior from Jupiter. “Experience doesn’t get any better than that.”

Both students study event management under sport business professor Benjamin Goss, Ph.E. The class is rebranding an alumni golf event begun in 1990 in memory of Wes Berner, a standout Stetson University golf coach of the 1950s and 60s who died in 1973. The event’s name has changed over the years as its popularity and fundraising power waned.

In 2011, it attracted only about 40 golfers and raised a mere $850, said Larry Watson, director of golf operations and men’s golf coach. It was basically a social get-together for a few alumni, he said.

That’s changed.

The number of golfers doubled in 2012 and income jumped 10 times when Watson, a former PGA golfer and player relations executive, personally managed the event. This year, he and Goss switched strategy and will mentor a class of students who need an event management project.

Students hope to raise $100,000 at the Nov. 8 event.

“The students are new energy. They’ll take it from being a boring penny-ante event to an exciting big dollar affair,” said Watson. All athletic programs will benefit from the revenue, said Goss, but students will benefit from the experience.

“Practical experience is vital to enter the sports industry, even to land good internships,” said Goss. “The conundrum of ‘I can’t get a job without experience, and I can’t get experience without a job’ is solved with practical elements like this built into our courses.”

Producing a golf tournament gives students strong, basic practice in an actual event and work experience for their resumes, he said.

“Not many students get an opportunity like this,” said Bryan Provanzano, a junior from Boca Raton. “We’re applying class lessons to a real project to support a real athletic department.”

Following textbook formulas, the class created five teams to focus on promotions, partnerships, audience, environment and revenue. They’re brainstorming ways to make money before, during and after the event.

Virtually everything about the event – breakfast, lunch, tees, holes and greens – can be sponsored by a business, club or individual.

Athletes from all Stetson’s varsity teams are expected to hobnob with golfers and guests. Numerous competitions are planned, and personalized sports memorabilia, merchandise and season tickets are among the prizes. Even mulligans will be sold. Stetson’s entertaining mascot, John B., will meet, greet and pose with participants while Tommy Smith, “Voice of the Hatters,” will announce golfers’ names as they approach the first hole, said J.R. O’Flynn, a junior from Lima, N.Y.

“We think if we make the participants feel like celebrities for a day, they’ll keep coming back and reinvesting in Stetson athletics,” O’Flynn said.

Students say they’re learning skills and lessons needed in sport management or in any career.

I’m learning about time management and how it’s essential to success,” said Jaimes. “I’m gaining leadership and teamwork experience. These are skills I can take with me to any field.”

The Wes Berner Homecoming Classic is open to Stetson alumni, friends and fans. It begins at 8 a.m., Friday, Nov. 8, at Victoria Hills Golf Club, 300 Spalding Way, DeLand. Breakfast and lunch are part of the event. For information on play, sponsorships and all aspects of the event, contact Larry Watson at (386) 822-7713 or email, lwatson@stetson.edu.

Pictured, courtesy of Stetson University, from the 2012 Wes Berner Golf Classic: Roger Chapin and Andrew Starling.

By Ronald Williamson