Adventure May 7, 2012

Swinging the Sticks

Jeff Sanders Promotions support Idaho non-profits

Learning to play golf can be a lot like learning to ski. Sometimes you whiff the ball, which can be as embarrassing at the tee as a face plant in front of your ski instructor. But with practice and determination there’s always a chance to improve your score, says Jeff Sanders, a former PGA Tour competitor and the CEO and President of Jeff Sanders Promotions, Inc.

Sanders’ company has been managing charity golf events across the country since 1989, including their hallmark event, the Albertsons Boise Open, an annual internationally televised professional golf event at Boise’s Hillcrest Country Club. One of the longest running stops on the Nationwide Tour, the event has raised some $13 million for dozens of Idaho charities over the past 22 years.

“I am an athletic person and I like skiing, but I found it difficult to learn,” Sanders said in a recent conversation about his Oregon-based company. “When I first started to learn, I fell on my face.”

But everything improves with practice, he said, explaining that dedication to improving one’s score in the sport is tantamount to living a good life in the community.

Sanders said his skiing progression was helped by lessons, allowing him to catch up to the skill level he’s enjoyed in his 40-year competitive golf career, a career that began when he was just 12 years old, and which got a boost with a golf scholarship at the University of Oregon. Although Sanders maintains his drive on the fairway, the most important scorecard for him now is marked by the dollars raised each year for charity by his company.

Sanders’ company helped create a fundraising program called the “Sara Lee Tickets Fore Charity,” which gives non-profits the opportunity to sell tickets to events like the Boise Open and keep 100% of the proceeds. In 2011, the Albertsons Boise Open raised over a million dollars for such organizations as the Boise YMCA, Activate Treasure Valley and the golf programs at Boise State and the University of Idaho. The thousands of tickets sold to spectators who come to watch the pros swing the sticks at Hillcrest raises most of the charitable funds brought in by the tournament.

“Dedication to improving one’s game, what golf is all about, links to the rest of life,” Sanders said.

At the end of the day, our company is passionate about golf, charity and results. —Jeff Sanders

Success in helping non-profits fund their missions makes ski days for Sanders even more enjoyable, as has his progression from his first lesson.

“The best way for me to learn was to imitate my instructor,” Sanders said. “Granted, she was incredible and I was a beginner, but I have always done best with visual learning.”

Learning by watching is how many golfers get into the swing of the sport that is Sanders' first love, which explains the popularity of the sport on TV. And when the cameras point to Albertsons Boise Open, a great deal of attention is paid to Idaho as a whole.

Broadcasts of the tournament profile the state with coverage that features Idaho gems like Bogus Basin, Sun Valley and river rafting, Sanders said, explaining that the Idaho vignettes and descriptions of supporting charities are blended into the telecast for the Golf Channel, which are broadcast in 176 countries.

“The Boise event sets the standard for the Nationwide Tour,” said PGA Tour President Bill Calfee, who’s been traveling to Boise and the Sun Valley area to golf and ski with friends for 23 years.

There are only about 200 professional golfers at any given time in the PGA Tour and the development of players and events like the Nationwide Tour is the sport’s form of expansion. Charity is another way golf differentiates itself from other sports, Calfee said, and by 2006, professional golf events had surpassed the billion-dollar mark of donations to charity. It is now on track to raise another billion by 2014.

“Our sponsors come back each year because we deliver on our promises to them,” Sanders said, explaining that it’s no accident that the golf industry has been so successful in supporting charities, even in an economic downturn. “At the end of the day, our company is passionate about golf, charity and results.”

Rian Losness-Nitrophoto Motorsports / Courtesy Albertson's Boise Open

This article appears in the Spring 2012 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.