By Drew Dixon
The Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville.
You don’t have to play it to get involved. But it does help to know your way around.
Big golf has often been linked with big business deals on or off the course, surrounding events such as The Players Championship, which gears up this week.
But female executives have often felt left out either because they are intimidated or perhaps because they simply haven’t been shown how the commercial aspects work.
On Monday, The PGA Tour enters its fourth year of the Executive Women’s Day at The Players where female business leaders are invited to better understand the inherent connection between golf and business networking.
The cost is on an executive level, too; $2,000 per table from each company taking part.
“Women are always looking for content. They want to have a full day of corporate dialogue together where they can share their experiences, their success, their challenges,” said Donna Fiedorowicz, PGA Tour senior vice president of outreach. “What we’ve done is just put it in a unique setting with a backdrop of a PGA Tour event.”
An estimated 275 First Coast female executives will attend the event, which runs from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the TPC Sawgrass Clubhouse and Stadium Course, where The Players tournament will take place through May 11.
The main sponsor, Astellas, a pharmaceutical company, will provide health tips for women and this year’s keynote speaker is Molly Fletcher, who founded MWF Enterprises and wrote two books about career advancement and traits exhibited in top business performers.
Fiedorowicz said the point of the Executive Women’s Day is to open avenues for business that many female business leaders may not know are available.
“They were a little bit concerned when we [initially] tested it because they weren’t sure what was going to happen,” Fiedorowicz said. “They hadn’t played or they were intimidated.
“We’re breaking down barriers. We’re introducing these women to what we do, and we want them to feel welcome when they come out here, whether they play golf or not,” Fiedorowicz said. “When we do the behind-the-scenes tour, we stop into the hospitality tents. We explain to these business women that there is a lot of business being done out here. For some of them, it’s the first they’ve had that interaction and opportunity.”
The effort has grown well beyond The Players tournament in Ponte Vedra Beach. Fiedorowicz said the PGA Tour held similar events at 17 tournament sites in 2013. In 2014, 21 of the events are scheduled and there are plans to hold 32 events at PGA Tour tournament sites in 2015.
While playing golf is no prerequisite to taking part in the Executive Women’s Day, Fiedorowicz said many of the participants have already seized on the opportunity. She said the ultimate goal is to expand those opportunities for all women who take part.
Marie Perry, market unit vice president for Coca-Cola in Jacksonville, is one of the female business leaders who got involved with the Executive Women’s Day at The Players. She was at the initial event and was part of a task force that helped to formulate the concept.
Perry said the impact on her growth as a business leader alone has exceeded her expectations.
“It was a great introduction into the executive women’s network in meeting new people, meeting people that have been here many years, just all kinds of different backgrounds,” Perry said. “It was such a difference in this executive community, and it was fun because it was a very eclectic group.”
In the initial event, Perry had just moved to Jacksonville, and it turned out to be a pivotal moment that changed her relationships, both with other business leaders and friendships developed out of the experience.
In addition to high-level networking among business leaders, Perry said the event also highlights programs for girls among organizations such as Junior Achievement. That helped Perry parlay that experience to a board membership with Junior Achievement and broadened her community involvement.
While Perry said she’s an avid golfer, she admitted she did not have a full understanding of the business implications surrounding The Players and major sporting events in general. The Executive Women’s Day, which she will attend again Monday, opened her eyes.
“It allowed that opportunity to meet new people. But when you put it all together, at the end of the day, golf brought us all together. But it really wasn’t as much about the golf as it was about building that relationship with women that have similar stories that you connect with,” Perry said.
“Golf can attract many different types; those that play and those that don’t play,” Perry said. “I think every year, the women that I know are excited about it.”