3M Champ Director Hollis Cavner talks tourney

                                                          Images courtesy of SN#1, Wiki, cliff1066 

For those 3M Championship attendees this week that become certain you've seen Tournament Director Hollis Cavner on three different holes at once, fear not: the sensations is neither a result of the direct July sun nor that second gin & tonic to which you treated yourself.  Rather, the guy is as active as he amicable; whirling and whooshing about the TPC Twin Cities during tournament week with a smile-laden tornadic quality akin in specter to the reputed twisters that roar upon Cavner's native Oklahoma turf each summer.

Cavner, co-Executive Director and Partner of Pro Links Sports (PLS) in Blaine, brought the 3M to Minnesota as the Burnet Senior Classic back in 1993, creating PLS as the parent organizer of the tournament.  Prior to, he cut his teeth as a gopher for ESPN and ABC in the early and mid-80's before organizing the U.S. Open with the U.S.G.A. from 1988-'93.  At present, PLS - in addition to organizing golf trips and corporate events about the globe - runs six Champions Tour events, or about a quarter of the Champs Tour schedule.  Said bevy of responsibility is undoubtedly buoyed by PLS's running of the U.S. Senior Opens in 1996, '97 and '99.  After the company's third and final charge over the Tour's marquee event, Cavner opted to conclude the contract with the Open, which had found his employees working as nomadic golf entities, moving yearly with the Open from course to course. Instead, PLS now operates from five offices (the Wendy's Skins game on Maui excluded) permanently housed in unison with annual Champions Tour stops.

The "Magic Isle's" breathtaking oceanic views aside, however, no non-Major Champs Tour event - whether run via PLS or not - can compare to the annual success of the 3M Championship, now entering its 17th campaign this week.  The tournament has drawn at least 100,000


fans each year, and is remarkably venerated amidst golf & event circles for charity dollars raised, a leviathan sum well-within the aggregate realm of $15 million this summer.  As a stated point of reference and focus, the 3M has maintained a tournament purse of $1.75 million for the last seven years; the prize monies constant while the philanthropic sums rise.

Further endearing the tournament to golf fans, the 3M recently announced that general admission access to this week's event is free this year.  The decision - the first in Champs Tour history for an entire tournament - is believed to cut revenues by approximately $200,000 this year, despite additional sponsorships commitments.

Behind each fan, and every dollar at the 3M, there are three "C's": crew, contacts, and Cavner.  The latter two go hand-in-hand like Arnold Palmer and a smile.  Based on his vast (and intimate) knowledge of the sporting world (not just golf here, folks), Cavner meshes a rare and aptly celebrated blend of hustle and handshakes to annually awe Minnesota golf with exceedingly strong 3M fields.  Getting players to Blaine is his specialty.

"I know that some guys like to fish.  The Capra family takes guys fishing all over for me," Cavner explains.  "We get guys out on hunting trips.  With the six events we have on Tour, I get to know guys pretty well.  So, if I'm not helping a guy here, maybe I'm setting him up with some deer hunting in Texas.  It's quid pro quo; the players ask a lot of me, too."

Cavner has mastered the proverbial art of the deal, knowing that extracurriculars like fishing may not be the exact lure for every player:

"These guys are all baseball fans," he continues.  "So, we set them up with tickets to games with three or four suites.  But I just don't let them sit together.  I have them branch out separately, sitting with our sponsors.

"And we do all kinds of things for the player's wives, as well," Cavner continues, noting that the ensuing activities aside, many of the Champs Tour brides also make time to do charity work while in town, mainly via visiting hospitals.  "We do spa trips and day trips.  Theatre tickets.  We'll have famous chefs come in here and do cooking classes, and we also set them up for rounds at some of the great clubs all over town."  

Much like every player has his own swing, many of Cavner's arrivals participate under unique circumstances.  He was able to get Nick Price to delay a family trip home to South Africa in lieu of playing in the year's 3M, and he is able to continually field a luminary cache of players for the exhibition game within the tournament.  

"Chi Chi Rodriguez is retired now; he doesn't really play anymore," Cavner smiles, starting to spin a yarn.  "But he'll come and play here in the Greats of Golf.  It's the only place he'll play all year.  A mutual friend of ours from Canada caddies for Chi Chi here; this guy is one of the richest men in the world.  He flies from Canada to Puerto Rico in his private jet, picks up Chi Chi, then flies him up here and carries his bag.  Then, after, he takes Chi Chi up to Canada for a week or so.  Here he is - one of the wealthiest guys in the world - schlepping around Chi Chi's bag for a week, and nobody knows who the hell he is."

Unique stories about sporting luminaries (i.e., Mickey Mantle, Roger Clemens, Johnny Bench) spring from Cavner like a Titleist off a Bubba Watson driver.  Most notable among them is Cavner's well-documented, and longtime friendship with Arnold Palmer.

"I have to start working six months early to get him here," Cavner laughs, noting that Palmer will again be present at the 3M this summer.  "It's become an ongoing game between me and

Arnold.  I've done everything from fly an airplane banner over him at Bay Hill to having a billboard done up in his backyard."

But another facet - and a critical one - of what makes Cavner so equally well-connected and well-respected, is that he is able to walk, and realize, the delicate line between a handshake, a hug, and a push.

"There's a line you don't cross," Cavner explains of courting friends to appear at his tournaments.  "And I have to be very careful about it.  Otherwise, the friendship will get killed.  These guys will tell ya: I wear them out when they come.  With the autograph sessions and everything we do.  I work them as hard as I can.  Some guys tell me, 'I can't win your tournaments, Hollis.  I'm too tired by Friday to even play.'"    

It's well-worthy of note that when Cavner gets to storytelling, he doesn't do so in a way that comes across as a boast or a brag; rather, he has the unique ability to paint a scene, to bring you into the time and place, to make his legendary pals come to life.  He wants to share them with you, and in doing so, these legends, in some small way, become your friends, too.


Portions of this piece initially appeared in the June issue of Tee Times MN Golf & Living