When planning a golf tournament in the desert, you don’t typically anticipate rain.
But the second year that Adam Sperling ’04 ran the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas, he said the city had half of its average yearly amount of rain fall in one week—tournament week.
“When you work all year round planning events that take place outdoors, and then it rains, you take it personally,” he says. “It was a pretty tough week, but it ended in historic fashion.”
On the fourth playoff hole, Jonathan Byrd hit a hole in one to win the tournament, just as the sun came out. It’s the only time in PGA tour history that an ace has determined a playoff win.
An official PGA tour event, the tournament is broadcast in 400 million homes in 225 countries and gets four days of coverage on the Golf Channel. The reach and branding is global, Sperling says, and his involvement with the PGA can be traced back to Ithaca College.
The 2003 PGA championship was in Rochester, New York, and Sperling needed an internship to graduate. The tournament sent a staff member to IC to interview potential interns. Sperling was hired for the internship, and his experience in the golf world began.
After graduation, he landed a full-time job with the PGA tour in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. He then moved to California to work at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in Monterey. There he reconnected with a colleague from the tour who was working in Las Vegas. PGA officials were looking for someone to take on the role of tournament director.
“I’m fortunate playing golf was not part of the interview process,” he says.
Sperling was hired as the tournament director in 2009. He acts as a liaison with the community, overseeing all tournament sales, marketing, operations, and community involvement, working with the local advisory board, partnering with local companies, and maximizing the tournament’s exposure.
“A number of years prior to my arrival, the community and the tournament had kind of lost touch with each other,” he says. “We’ve created several charitable programs that re-energized the community in support of the tournament.”
Each year through the auspices of the tournament, Sperling and his staff make dental care accessible to more than 200 underprivileged children and organize a walkathon that provides shoes for needy youth. They also run a charity golf outing with Charley Hoffman, a member of the 1998 University of Nevada–Las Vegas national championship team. In the last two years the event has raised $175,000 to support local charities and the tournament’s title sponsor, Shriners Hospitals for Children.
“Everyone’s well aware of our country’s financial challenges,” Sperling says. “Any time you can play a small part in a positive story for the local community during difficult times, it’s rewarding.”
– Robin Roger