In a somewhat surprising move, the PGA Tour will announce Wednesday that it has added an official restaurant category for the first time and the sponsor will be Arby's.
"We don't have the budget to throw our logo all over the place," said Arby's chief marketing officer Rob Lynch. "But this will make people look twice, so we think it's both ludicrous and awesome that we pulled this off."
The announcement will be made at this week's tournament, the Memorial, in part because Arby's has more restaurants in Ohio, where the tournament is held, than any other state. The chain will have a food truck at the event.
After seeing the emergence of Andrew "Beef" Johnston at The Open last year, where he finished eighth, Arby's decided to sponsor the British golfer for a couple of events, including putting its logo on his shirt for the PGA Championship at Baltusrol.
"The more we spent time with him, the more we loved him," Lynch said. "While he is committed to being a great golfer, he isn't too full of himself and he loves food."
The PGA Tour wasn't actively seeking to fill the fast-food category, said Brian Oliver, senior vice president of sponsorship and partnership for the Tour. But after seeing Arby's enthusiasm for "Beef," it decided to pull data that tracked golfers and their likelihood to go to Arby's.
"We found that there were a lot of shared values there and we got excited about the opportunity of working with great marketers," Oliver said.
"When they showed us that weekend warriors who play public courses over index, in terms of their visits to our restaurants, we were impressed," Lynch said. "McDonald's is in five times more locations than us and they outspend us 10 to 1. We're a huge underdog in a hugely competitive category, but it's a long road and we think we can tell a story that will lead to Arby's being a destination."
Arby's, currently the seventh-largest fast-food brand in America, will advertise the partnership through irreverent digital spots that profess that the brand is the official restaurant of "unsanctioned mulligans," "long gimmes," "shenanigans" and "Beef."
After seeing success with Johnston for the few tournaments they sponsored him for in 2016, the company signed him to a new two-year deal late last year.
Since starting to sponsor him, Johnston made six of 10 cuts on the PGA Tour, with a tenth place finish in the Puerto Rico Open in March. Johnston qualified for the U.S. Open this past weekend at a sectional qualifier in England, thanks to a hole-in-one and two eagles in 36 holes.
"He might be the 119th-ranked golfer in the world, but it doesn't matter because people want to see him," Lynch said of Johnston, who is seen as a working class man's golfer. "He's so good in a really different way."