A Golf Lesson in Corporate Sponsorship

It stands 17″ tall and 9″ in diameter. It weighs four pounds and is made of solid gold. It comes equipped with two ear-shaped handles for transport and, at first glance, you’d think it was an elegant sugar bowl or one of Liberace’s candelabras.

A Gold Lesson in Corporate Sponsorship

Who’d guess that this antique sconce had the power to turn the United States and Great Britain into adversaries?

It’s the Ryder Cup, coveted trophy for the world’s biggest golf event.

Ryder Cup Match Format

For those unfamiliar with the competition, every two years teams of the top-ranked American and European golf pros hop on their corporate jets and cross the pond to vie for the Ryder Cup. The golf venues alternate between the U.S. and Europe. The games are played under the rules of Match Play, where the number of holes won determines the results of each game. Players compete in three formats ending on the final day with the singles matches. The first team to earn 141/2 points takes the cup home along with bragging rights for the next two years.

This September the teams are headed to Gleneagles in Scotland for their 40th meeting, an unbroken stretch of matches going back to 1927 with the exception of 1939 to 1945 where they took a time out for WWII.

Golf Pro – Marketing Pro

Prior to 1979, the U.S. had won 19 matches and the British only three. By now, the tournament’s popularity was waning and in need of a boost. The brilliant Jack Nicklaus came up with the idea to expand the competition to include players from all of Europe.Tim Crow wrote in Synergy “Nicklaus’ suggestion must surely rank as one of the greatest, and most altruistic, sports marketing ideas of all time.” Since 1979, when the competition was expanded, the U.S. has won six matches and the Europeans nine. Today the Ryder Cup is the biggest event in golf and one of the biggest in the world of sport.

Planting Seeds for a Corporate Sponsorship

Samuel Ryder was an English merchant who started a mail order business selling seeds for a penny a packet. Ryder & Son Seeds grew to be a global business and made Ryder very rich. Always looking for openings to promote his business, he saw an opportunity to combine his passion for golf with a need for advertising. Thus he donated the cup along with some seed money to get it started. It was official, the tournament now had corporate sponsorship.

Ryders Seeds

While the players play the tournament for God and Country, the PGA and the European Tour play for money. Tune in to the matches this September and you’ll see more corporate tents pitched along the fairways than at a Boy Scout Jamboree. It’s estimated that the 2012 Ryder Cup matches held at Medina Country Club in Chicago brought the city over $300 million—add in the advertising and corporate sponsorship revenues and you can see how this friendly match has become big business.

Samuel Ryder lived to see the matches contested five times, enough to know that he started something that would be around for the long term.

While I’m a life-long golfer, I’ve never attended a Ryder Cup Match, although it’s on my bucket list. I do know that when I get there, I’ll have to pay for a ticket to get in, I’ll stand behind the ropes like everyone else and I’ll be kept at a distance from the 17 inch gold cup. I will, however, walk the golf course knowing that the spirit of my great-great uncle Samuel Ryder is with me.

Ryder Cup Facts:

  • The first Ryder Cup match was played at Worcester Country Club, Worcester, MA.
  • In 1927 the Ryder Cup cost £250, the equivalent of $420, or $82,560 today.
  • The golfer at the top of the Ryder Cup trophy is modeled after Abe Mitchell, Samuel Ryder’s golf instructor.
  • Approximately 620 million households will watch the 2014 Ryder Cup competition.
  • Samuel Ryder wasn’t a pro, however he was a single digit handicapper.
  • The first match was actually played in 1926. When the players finished, they each got a sandwich. The cup made it’s first appearance in 1927.
  • Six holes-in-ones have been made since the competition began, five by the Europeans and only one by the US.

To learn more about Samuel Ryder and the Ryder Cup visit The Samuel Ryder Foundation