Although you might know where Tiger Woods or Rory McIlroy are on the leaderboard at The Players Championship, you probably don’t know about everything going on behind the scenes at TPC Sawgrass. For example, on Monday, while the golfers were out playing practice rounds, 250 women were attending Executive Women’s Day in the clubhouse. The day included breakfast, lunch, a variety of speakers and networking opportunities.
I had the pleasure of attending Executive Women’s Day at The Players and met high-level executives in pharmaceuticals, real estate, banking and virtually every other industry I could imagine. Speakers similarly represented a diverse group of female executives, from Julie Fasone Holder, a former senior vice president with Dow Chemical Company, who discussed leadership; to Lesley Visser, a CBS sportscaster who spoke of her career in journalism.
Pam Buford, director of consumer marketing at research-based pharmaceutical company Astellas and the presenting sponsor of Executive Women’s Day around the PGA Tour, says there’s a little bit of a surprise factor in holding a women’s event at a golf tournament.
“We were trying to connect with women in a different way,” Buford said. “There’s a growing and engaged audience with the PGA Tour in general.”
“It’s an all-around good place to be,” Buford said of the partnership with the PGA Tour. “We found a lot more in it than we even expected.”
Buford says she has personally benefited from the networking opportunities at the six events held so far this year.
“My first event was the Honda Classic,” Buford said. “I went into it thinking it would be a good event, might be nice, might get some business cards.
“I ran into someone from Coca-Cola, and then someone from another beverage company, then someone from General Motors. We’ve actually sent some emails back and forth, which I thought was pretty dynamic. We’ve already followed up on a couple of things.”
For those ladies lucky enough to score an invite to these sold-out functions, the PGA Tour and Astellas are rolling out a new LinkedIn group to keep attendees connected.
“We’ve heard a lot of feedback that women were continuing discussions [from Executive Women’s Day events] and wanted to know about more opportunities and what was going on at other Executive Women’s Day events. So on Wednesday we launched a LinkedIn community just for participants from Executive Women’s Day events.”
Eleven more Executive Women’s Day events will be held at PGA Tour events this year, for a total of 17. Buford says there’s expansion planned for the future, too. Next year there will be at least 20 Executive Women’s Day events, and by Astellas’ third year of sponsorship the goal is 25.
Thursday night, another gathering of executives, this time co-ed, met to discuss business expansion and relocation into Northeast Florida. For the third year, Florida governor Rick Scott attended these VIP roundtable discussions.
Joe York, vice president of external affairs for Florida for AT&T, says the partnership between the governor and The Players is a perfect match.
“The Governor has worked with the Tour to try and figure out ways to entice companies to take a look at Florida and what Florida has to offer,” York told me Tuesday night on my local radio show on 1010XL/WJAX. “I think we’re looking at a perfect marriage with a PGA Tour signature event with a governor who has made jobs and economic development his No. 1 priority, and they created a perfect marriage by putting them together here at The Players, where you’ve got a lot of executives from across the country who are coming to town."
Asked if he thought these roundtables had been effective in the past, York said there’s plenty of evidence to suggest so.
“We’re right now the fastest job-growing state in the entire country. [Chief Executive Magazine] just ranked us the No. 2 best place to do business in the country," he said.
York points to everything from a proactive mayor of Jacksonville to the governor as reasons Jacksonville is a great place to do business. The Players, he says, is a natural venue for meeting with executives and convincing them this is a place they want to live and work.
“I’ve had the opportunity to go to a lot of golf tournaments around the country,” York said. “Obviously The Masters is like the shrine of golf tournaments, but there is not a better fan-friendly golf tournament than The Players.”
Event coordinators expected more than 35 C-level executives to attend Thursday night’s gathering with Gov. Scott, from industries including healthcare, telecom, financial services, logistics, technology, real estate/development and consumer products.