U.S. Women’s Open teeing up sponsorships for 2011 event

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1995 Women’s Open champ Anika Sorenstam.

Helping to lure sponsors: 1995 Women’s Open champ Anika Sorenstam.

The countdown has begun and with less than a year to go before the kick-off of the U.S. Women’s Open at The Broadmoor, more than 30 corporations have already teed up for event sponsorship packages.

In exchange, they’ll have access to top-flight amenities, entertainment and visits with players including this year’s honorary chairman, 1995 U.S. Women’s Open champion Anika Sorenstam.

These aren’t four- or five-figure sponsorships, either. Several have been bagged at the top $200,000-level.

The big sponsors already lining up include Lexus, IBM, Rolex, RBS and American Express.

Laura Caleal, the sponsorship sales director for Bruno Events Team, the firm organizing the Women’s Open, said the U.S. Golf Association generally offers two sponsorship tiers.

The most expensive deals will provide sponsors “private venues” to meet and greet their clients.

We’re not talking just tents here. At the Broadmoor, that will mean a cottage or any of four hotel suites for the week of the event. These are “self-managed” — meaning the sponsors can order caviar for midnight snacks or pretty much anything else they’d like from the hotel.

“The Broadmoor is a wonderful asset for us. At other locations around the country, we use tented hospitality areas. Here we can offer much more, and our sponsors really like that,” Caleal said.

Of course, many local companies aren’t in a position to spend six figures on a single golf event, regardless of how prestigious. Those sponsors are able to share venues at the “Championship” level.

At that level, the hotel has two separate meeting and hosting areas: the Judy Bell Room off the Golf Club dining room that can accommodate up to 10 sponsors, and the upper-level Penrose Dining Room, which can accommodate another 25 sponsors.

Those sponsorship slots are already selling. In fact, the Judy Bell Room only has two openings left.

In addition, two of the hotel’s four sponsor package South Tower Suites, which typically go for close to $1,000 per night, are already reserved for the week of July 4-10, 2011.

Because Colorado Springs is home to five military installations and dozens of defense contracting firms, there is a third special sponsorship offered.

The Freedom Plaza is a one-day sponsorship venue near the 18th green.

So far, four out of the five days of that sponsorship availability have sold.

Companies that buy that package are able to host up to 125 active-duty or retired military Freedom Plaza guests each day at no charge.

“Those has proven to be very popular,” Caleal said

But because of the $25,000 cost, some firms opt to share the expense.

Delta Solutions President and CEO Kelly Roth, for example, wanted to underwrite an event that would benefit the military’s Wounded Warriors program and their families, but as a small, woman-owned firm wasn’t able to afford a full Freedom Plaza sponsorship.

She decided to team with three other business owners, all interested in providing special hospitality amenities for the troops.

As a result, she asked fellow CEOs Buddy Gilmore at Shape Technologies, Shawnee Huckstep at TechWise and Tony Porterfield at NEK Advanced Securities Group to partner with her firm. The four companies will sponsor the hospitality area just off the Broadmoor Spa’s outdoor patio, near the 18th green.

“We signed up early to make sure to get this particular event. We could have bought something less like ticket packages, but preferred to be able to donate to our troops,” Roth said.

Other sponsors, hoping to repeat business cultivated at past championship tournaments, will be back next year.

Sherman & Howard senior partner Mark Williams said his law firm decided to commit to a Championship-level sponsorship.

The firm signed on for a “very small” sponsorship for the Senior Open in 2008.

For 2011, however, the company’s employees and invited clients will serve as marshals for the 16th hole and will enjoy extra hospitality amenities.

The decision was made mostly as a way to cement relationships and to brand the firm as a community supporter. Williams pointed out that many of Sherman & Howard’s clients are also “decision-makers who are women.”

“At work we’re focused on tasks. This will be a good collegiality builder, a bonding opportunity. Our firm gets involved in the community both in Denver and Colorado Springs. On top of that is a national championship — it doesn’t get bigger than that,” he said.

Others are still weighing their options.

Classic Cos. Executive Vice President Dan Winters said he has personally purchased tickets, but so far the company has not.

Last year, Classic was a major corporate sponsor, spending about $40,000 to sponsor a hole and a hospitality villa.

“We contributed mostly to help the community put on a great event. It wasn’t about trying to sell homes, although we did promote tours of Flying Horse,” he said.

This year is another story.

With the local housing market still in recovery and revenues still off peak levels by a third or more, Winters expects that Classic will maintain a much lower profile at the 2011 event.

The Bruno Events folks say they’re willing to be “creative” to capture business, including sponsorships of special ticket packages, parking, refreshments and seating opportunities.

If sponsorship options are simply not a fit, however, Caleal and Executive Championship Director Doug Habgood have one more suggestion: for a mere $125, anyone can volunteer and watch the action live on the course.