How Blackhawk CC put the ‘pow wow’ factor back in its member-guest.
The member-guest golf tournament is a perennial calendar staple at every golf course property. But the event can often lose its luster over time and become something that members and staff view as a “have to have,” rather than a “want to have” that gets the juices flowing for both its planning and build-up, and then again on the actual day of the event.
After participation in the annual men’s Member-Guest at Blackhawk Country Club in Madison, Wis., dwindled to 40 golfers in 2008, General Manager Paul Anthony, CCM, CCE, revamped the tournament into an event that now deserves a place at the top of the club industry’s totem pole. Anthony and his staff reshaped the event to draw on Blackhawk CC’s rich Native American history, and added skills contests that allow golfers to test their prowess with more than just golf clubs.
The Blackhawk CC property, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, includes 23 Native American burial and effigy mounds. Black Hawk, a Sauk Indian leader, crossed the grounds during his ill-fated retreat at the end of the Black Hawk War of 1832.
|THE GOAL:Set the member-guest golf tournament apart at Blackhawk Country Club by turning it into a special event with touches that are unique to the club’s history.THE PLAN: Honor the property’s Native American culture by duplicating the historic rendezvous meetings between French fur trappers and Native Americans with themed holes and games such as hatchet throwing, archery, horseshoes and dice. The staff dresses in authentic period costumes, and the post-tournament dinner features Native American cuisine.
THE PAYOFF: Participation has tripled in the member-guest since the club adopted the Native American theme, and the tournament fosters pride among staff members who work together to stage the event.
“The member-guest had always been named the Pow Wow, but we went back to our original roots to recreate some excitement in the event,” says Anthony.
Respectfully celebrating the property’s Native American culture, staff members dress as settlers, military personnel or Native Americans in authentic period costumes that are rented from a Milwaukee theatrical company. Tournament literature is printed in early 19th-century script, and the post-tournament dinner features Native American dishes such as bison, cedar-planked salmon, corn and blueberry pudding.
Games of skill and chance, which were essential parts of “pow wows” and rendezvous gatherings of Native Americans and French fur trappers during the early 1800s, are also built into the event. Near some holes, particularly par 3s where golfers sometimes wait to tee off, players can test their skills in archery, hatchet throwing, horseshoes and dice. At the 10th tee, after drawing cards to designate the air-pressure setting, golfers earn prizes if they can outdrive a golf ball shot from a cannon.
A birdie on a “Spirit Hole,” which features ancient burial or effigy mounds, fittingly nets golfers a feather that can be redeemed for golf shirts. Anyone who reaches the green on a “Fire Water Hole” wins a bottle of wine.
Not even the practice putting green, where a putting contest is held, is left out by the staff’s creative efforts for the day. “We name holes on the green for a Native American tribe, and try to duplicate the environment for that tribe,” Anthony explains.
So it is that the Seminole hole, for example, features cypress trees and a swamp. “The superintendent allows me to do that,” Anthony makes clear. “We cut plugs out, line them, and fill them with water to make the hazards.” The Sauk hole, meanwhile, boasts replicas of wooden structures that members of that tribe slept in, and the Lakota hole has native grasses and a mini-teepee made of real leather.
“Every department is involved,” Anthony reports.
“We assign holes to each department, and they take ownership of the event.” And those “owners” can clearly see good returns on their efforts. In 2010, the second year featuring the Native American theme, Pow-Wow participation climbed to 100 golfers. This year’s member-guest, scheduled for August, already is close to its full field of 140 people.
“We are stewards of land that Native Americans consider to be holy, and we will continue to take care of it,” promises Anthony. Before the awards ceremony each year, he now explains the history of the burial and effigy mounds on the property, and tells the story of Black Hawk and his band.
“The members have a blast at an event that used to be ho-hum,” Anthony says. “And the teamwork across department lines gives our staff pride in something we accomplished together.” One new challenge, however, now comes up each year. “You have to take it up a notch every time you do it,” Anthony says. “We keep all of the old games, but we have to find ways to add to them, rather than take away.”