The FBR corporate tent at the FBR Open has — no surprise — the choicest spot in Corporate Village, perched above the 18th hole at the TPC Scottsdale.
The atmosphere — an intricately carved wood bar that stretches the length of the massive tent backed by wood-framed mirror backdrops, sconces and four plasma TVs and plenty of gourmet goodies to munch on — is as posh as a luxury resort lounge.
And only about 500 top customers or would-be customers are invited to the swanky digs, said Bill Stephens, executive vice president of Friedman, Billings, Ramsey Group, the Virginia-based investment giant.
Still, the boost in business the company gets from the lavish spread more than makes up for the cost of staging it, Stephens said.
For hundreds of local and national corporate leaders, the tournament is more about business than golf.
While most say deals don’t get done or contracts signed at the plastic tables and chairs that dot the lawn in Corporate Village, they often get started there. Stop by any group standing around chatting and you are as likely to hear discussions about a great piece of real estate as about a great putt.
Tim McCarthy, executive vice president of Sandstrom OnTV stores, is hoping to finance a major launch of new branches of the company. He’s seeking investors among the golf watchers.
McCarthy connected with Joe DeMarco, a luxury real estate broker, who is interested.
“If somebody starts talking about real estate, you just jump into the conversation,” DeMarco said. He’s been doing that at the FBR Open for a decade and said he can trace some big sales to conversations that started at the tournament.
Companies pay big bucks for use of the 37 tents in Corporate Village that line the 18th fairway and the 224 skyboxes that are spread along the final three holes. An empty tent goes for $35,000 or more, depending on size and location, and that doesn’t count the food or luxury decor. A much smaller skybox goes for $35,000 or more, including food.
The Thunderbirds, the civic organization that stages the annual golf gig, keep finding ways to squeeze in more of each to meet demand from the local and national companies.
The list of ones that sign up for spots ranges from Honeywell to Bank of America, IBM to Cox Communications, Coca Cola to Charles Schwab.
Kathi Overkamp oversees the ultraluxurious US Airways tent, where a half-dozen finely dressed bartenders dispense drinks from behind the 35-foot-long solid oak bar.
The Tempe-based airline used to kick in lots of money for sponsorships at the golf tournament, but a couple of years ago decided to tighten purse strings, Overkamp said.
Executives said any other spending could be cut, but not the Corporate Village tent.
“We get business out of it,” Overkamp said. “It’s a place where our employees can sit down and meet with customers, and it works.”
Scottsdale Resort & Conference Center general manager Brenda Weskamp said the same.
The crowd at Corporate Village are prime customers for the resort and its meeting business, Weskamp said. She has entertained decision makers for several years at the tournament and booked business because of it.
“It absolutely works,” Weskamp said.
In fact, golf tournaments are such a big business booster that a few years ago, Bank of America built a traveling setup of wood-paneled elegance, dubbed Hogan’s Alley after the famed golfer Ben Hogan. The company folds it up and transports it to 20 tournaments a year, including the FBR Open, where it slips easily inside an oversized Corporate Village tent, said Joe Goode, corporate spokesman. “We’ve hosted more than 50,000 customers and prospective customers in it since 2003,” Goode said. The company puts on seminars at Hogan’s Alley in the morning and leaves the rest of the day to talk golf or business, Goode said.
And the company does surveys to see if the “world-class mobile hospitality experience” is a hit, Goode said. Surveys say it is.
“We know more than 90 percent of our customers who experience Hogan’s Alley are likely to do more business with us in the future. And 90 percent of them are likely to recommend us to others,” Goode said.