Season of tournaments: Behind the scenes at Willow Run

This piece is presented by GreatLIFE Golf & Fitness.

For the woman in charge of organizing 35 tournaments at Willow Run Golf Course, the golf season actually starts in January.

That’s when Jacki Pranger reaches out to a long list of annual visitors to firm up their timing for tournaments that will bring thousands of golfers to the GreatLIFE course later that year.

“Some of our groups have been here so long that meetings don’t happen as often, but usually two months prior we’ll sit down and go through everything to see if there are major changes, and then we will meet again if needed a month prior,” Pranger explained.

Lewis Drug is one of those regulars. The Sioux Falls business, which celebrates its 75th anniversary this year, has hosted an annual charity golf tournament for 29 years.

Twenty-four teams compete for trophies, coming from as far as California and Ohio. Sponsors can win a raffle worth a $10,000 credit toward a trip to a major sporting event of their choice. Funds raised at the event this year totaled more than $65,000 for local charities — an 18 percent increase from last year.

“Golfers love coming out to the tournament because it’s a beautiful course and a beautiful day,” corporate vice president Nikki Griffin said.

“This tournament is a great opportunity for us to get together with our sponsors, different entities and vendors that we do business with and have relationships with throughout the year … and raise a bunch of money we can give to charity, so everyone feels good about it.”

As the company’s organizer, Griffin said she feels good knowing GreatLIFE has the details covered. And she’s right. Pranger starts the night before, double-checking details like what’s loaded into the digital signage, and she’s back at 5 a.m. the next day to start checking items off her list again.

By 6 a.m, the GreatLIFE team is placing materials in golf carts, preparing the driving range for warm-ups, placing sponsor signs, setting up the registration area and ensuring breakfast is ready to go.

“In the morning, you come out and everything is set up,” Griffin said. “The sponsor signs are out on the green, catering is set up … and throughout the day they are coordinating the course play, the scoring and the awards ceremony.”

GreatLIFE staff members drive the course and ensure players have what they need and are keeping play moving.

“We’re seeing where they’re at, chatting with them and making sure they’re having a good time,” Pranger said. “We really aim for four and a half hours because if they’re out here for six or seven it’s really not enjoyable anymore, so we try to get them to move forward and enjoy the social aspect of it.”

A new digital scoring system this year further improves the experience, she said.

“It’s easier and it’s live. As I put scores in, they go straight up on a screen, so it’s pretty cool.”

GreatLIFE handles catering for lunches afterward. Lewis enjoyed a picnic-themed meal with hamburgers, potato salad, fruit and even an ice cream sundae bar.

“They’re just a full-service tournament, and they do a great job,” Griffin said.

GreatLIFE Willow Run has room for new tournaments, but nothing from Thursday through Sunday.

Lewis will be back next year, Griffin said. The tournament is locked in for the first Thursday in June.

“It’s really a seamless process,” she said. “We’ve been very fortunate to work together.”

Season of tournaments: Behind the scenes at Willow Run

Willow Run puts on dozens of major tournaments every year — so the staff has it down to a science. Here’s a look behind the scenes.

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