At the Ford Championship in Miami in early March, tournament organizers arranged for golfers to board helicopters and fly to the Homestead NASCAR race track, where they were allowed to get behind the wheel and whoosh around the course at 130 mph in a Ford GT muscle car.
At the John Deere Classic in Silvis, Ill., next month, players and their families can spend the Tuesday night of tournament week at a picnic on the grounds of the nearby John Deere testing facility, with children encouraged to sit on their parents' laps and to help operate the latest model of bulldozer, backhoe or mega-tractor.
At the Deutsche Bank Classic in Boston in September, free prime tickets to watch the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park or the New England Patriots' final preseason game in Foxboro, Mass., will be available to any player who asks.
In order to attract the very best players in the world to participate in their PGA Tour events, tournament directors around the country keep coming up with all manner of unorthodox methods to fill their fields with quality golfers. And yet, most tournament directors also will admit that no matter how hard they recruit, there is no guarantee that any of the top golfers in the world will even bother to show up at their event.
This week, the Booz Allen Classic, Washington's annual PGA Tour stop since 1980, will have one of the best fields in its history. Vijay Singh, ranked No. 1 in the world, will be here, along with No. 3 Ernie Els, No. 4 Phil Mickelson, No. 5 Retief Goosen and No. 8 Adam Scott, the defending champion.
The perks will have very little to do with their presence. Instead, they're in Bethesda this week because of the tournament's place on the schedule, a week before the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2, and because of the venue, Congressional Country Club's Blue Course, a classic, major championship test at 7,250 yards.
That wasn't enough to lure Tiger Woods, whose candlepower can single-handedly give luster to any field. Woods, who rarely plays the week before a major championship, has never played in more than 21 tournaments in any of his eight full seasons as a professional, and between the major championships, sponsorship obligations and personal preferences, there is little variety in his schedule from year to year.
That leaves more than half of the 47 events on the PGA Tour with little to no chance of luring the game's biggest drawing card. But in the past year, several top players have caught Woods -- in playing ability if not celebrity status -- giving the sport a Big Five that includes Singh, Els, Mickelson and Goosen.
Players such as Els and Mickelson clearly move the sizzle needle for any event, but so does the presence of world No. 1 Singh, suddenly popular Chris DiMarco -- the hard-luck runner-up in the last two majors -- and the ever-popular John Daly, even if he has only won once since 1995.
"It's definitely a challenge for us to attract a field," said Clair Peterson, tournament director for the John Deere Classic, played the week before the British Open. Many top players either take that week off, or head toward Europe either to play in the Scottish Open on the European Tour, or practice on seaside links courses in Scotland and Ireland to prepare for a different style of golf.
Still, Peterson has been able to attract the occasional big-name player, even though they probably were small names when they first participated, such as defending British Open champion Todd Hamilton, who tied for 59th last year, then beat Els in a playoff at Royal Troon the following week for his first major title.
"The biggest thing we have going for us is the quality of the golf course since we moved to the TPC at Deere Run in 2000," Peterson said. "Each year we've gotten a stronger field. Last year we had Vijay Singh, Chris DiMarco, Stewart Cink and Nick Price. Vijay was a big deal here, and I think he enjoyed being here as much as we enjoyed having him."
Peterson and other tournament directors with less attractive spots on the schedule would dearly love to see the tour force its top players to enter every event on the schedule at least once every four or five years. But they also know that is not likely to happen.
"The tour is always reminding us that these guys are independent contractors," Peterson said. "They make no money if they don't make the cut, so they're free to make their own decisions. The tour is not going to burden them with that type of restriction."
"I've heard the issue of at least [playing in] one tournament every five years," said Andy Pazder, the tour's vice president of competition. "It's something we've looked at but have never gotten to the point where we were comfortable pursing it."
Eddie Carbone, the tournament director of the Ford Championship at Doral, is credited with reviving an event that featured 10 of the world's top 11 players two months ago and offered up the most riveting final round of the season with Woods going head-to-head with Mickelson and finally prevailing for his first victory of the season.
"There's no question that once you get Tiger Woods in your field you're going to have a huge week," Carbone said. "But we really looked at this year's event not knowing whether we'd have Tiger pretty much until the last minute. We went into it just trying to create an event that would get people to come out again. We created a fan zone where we had golf activities, car displays, a rock climbing wall and a petting zoo for the kids. When you do get Tiger, it just creates another level of interest, especially if he hasn't played there for a while."
Carbone's first season as Doral's tournament director was wildly successful. A year ago, the tournament drew 75,000 spectators for the week. This year, attendance went over 120,000, with an estimated 40,000 fans on Sunday, when crowds following Woods and Mickelson often were five and six deep behind the gallery ropes.
"It was just insane," Carbone said. "But I'll take insane every time."
Peterson will have plenty of insanity at this year's John Deere. Michelle Wie, the 15-year-old prodigy from Hawaii, was given a sponsor's exemption into the field. The tournament also has one exemption into the British Open field for the winner. If the champion is already exempt, it will go to the runner-up and so on down the line. Wie is attempting to become the first woman to play in the British Open, and while her chances to qualify are the longest of long shots, a number of media outlets in the British Isles, as well as a large contingent of American reporters, will be there to chronicle her exploits. Even if she just makes the cut, it will be one of the bigger golf stories of the year, right there in small-town southern Illinois.
"No matter what, it's our major league sports event of the year," Peterson said. "It's a huge thing for this community. We had Tiger here in 1996 when he first came out on tour and was trying to get his [playing] card for '97. We had to go out and buy those little theater tickets to meet the demand because we just ran out of the pre-printed tickets. That year, he led after the third round and Sunday was amazing. We had 40,000 on the course in a community of 375,000 people. It was electric."
Virtually any tournament director out there concedes that a player's No. 1 priority in deciding whether to play involves the golf course.
Congressional, with its storied history and magnificent layout, is a huge reason so many of the game's best players are in town this week. It's certainly not the $5 million purse, standard on the PGA Tour these days, or the chance to play with a congressman, a Washington Redskin or a Maryland basketball coach in the pro-am.
"When I saw on the schedule it was at Congressional, it didn't take long for me to say yes," said Els, who won the '97 U.S. Open on the same course.
Still, even if a tournament offers up a gorgeous, challenging venue, if a golfer has missed the cut three of the four times he has played it, chances are likely he won't show up again. If the place looks like a ho-hum, high-end venue built in between an upscale housing development -- as several top players characterize TPC at Avenel, the usual Washington area venue -- but a player has had some success there, he'll be back again and again to cash those rich checks.
Number two on their list for entering a tournament has to do with its place on the schedule. Unlike Woods, most top players like Mickelson, Singh and Els prefer to play themselves into a major and will show up no matter where the tournament is held. Some players like it hot, and enter a string of summertime events. Some despise desert golf, and rarely show up for Arizona and Nevada tournaments.
When he took the job at Doral, Carbone was told by some players he had an awful date as the first tournament when the tour switched from the West Coast to the Florida swing. But he loved the fact that Doral this year was the week after the Match Play Championship at La Costa, especially when most of the top seeds were eliminated in the early rounds. He knew they had anticipated playing most of the week in California and would be eager to get back on the course in Miami.
"To me, I just felt like having the first event on the East Coast made a lot of sense," Carbone said. "Some guys don't like the West Coast, and we made some real significant improvements to our course and to the resort itself. That also made a difference. We just wanted to make our event as attractive as possible to the players, and the fans, and then we had Tiger and Phil on Sunday. In this business, sometimes you can just get lucky, too."