The Century Club of San Diego, the nonprofit promotion arm for the PGA Tour’s Farmers Insurance at Torrey Pines, derives its name from the original donation amount asked of members.
When the club formed in 1961, members were asked to give $100, a gesture of support for their commitment to help raise funds for the fledgling tournament then known as the San Diego Open.
Just as the cost of membership has gone up – it’s now $1,250 – so has the significance, influence and impact of The Century Club.
In May, The Century Club announced that the tournament generated $3.1 donation to local charities. Century Club CEO and President Peter Ripa says awarding those donations is among the most meaningful parts of his job.
“We work with a lot of medium to smaller-sized charities,” Ripa says. “The numbers we are able to provide to them are meaningful, more so than they might be for some of the larger charities. For some of them, they’re able to do an entire summer program for kids that they otherwise couldn’t have done.”
For its overall contributions to the community, the San Diego Hall of Champions honored The Century Club with its 2015 Humanitarian Award in February. Ripa says the award had dual significance.
“The award is named after Ernie Wright, who started Pro Kids First Tee San Diego, which is one of our primary beneficiaries,” he says. “So it was ironic and special all at the same time.”
In his fourth year as CEO, the tournament has enjoyed the type of success Ripa envisioned when he took the job after serving in a similarity capacity for The Colonial, the PGA Tour’s stop in Fort Worth.
“I saw the opportunity of what this event represented. San Diego. Torrey Pines. Late January. I felt like I could sell that,” Ripa says with a wry smile.
Ripa coordinates the efforts of a group of 60 club members, the ones sporting the navy jackets at the tournament, and says the expectation of members is set from the outset.
“Our first-year members are provisional members,” he says. “Their duty is to provide warm introductions into relationships in the community, those businesses that value promoting San Diego, and let us help drive their business.”
Planning, promoting and especially improving the tournament experience are all year-round duties of The Century Club.
Ripa travels to industry events and at least six tour stops a year to glean ideas and foster relationships and partnerships. His overall emphasis has been to improve the fan experience, a primary example being the relocation of the entrance gate to near the Gliderport last year to improve efficiency of security and ticket checks.
“People were waiting 30 minutes to get in. They only way to improve that was to move the entrance. There wasn’t the opportunity in the old footprint,” he says. “We’re all fans. No one wants a 30-minute wait.
“We’ve now got the capacity, as more of our guests come through, to handle up to a 25 percent increase per year.”
Surveys showed the impact. Ticketholders and guests reported a 97 percent satisfaction rate, up from 96 the year before.
“It shows the incremental improvements from the investments. We’re working toward 100.”
Part of improving the fan experience is expanding it, Ripa says, through attention to concessions, the social experience, etc.
“What we’ve worked hard in promoting is that there’s more to experience than just the golf,” he says. “We’ve worked hard on the social areas to allow people to gather with friends and family and have a sandwich or a beer and enjoy a great day outdoors. We want them to realize the beauty of Torrey Pines and San Diego. It’s a world-class golf course.”
And as another world-class golf event – the 2021 U.S. Open – creeps closer, the Farmers, Torrey and San Diego will all benefit from the anticipation and exposure but will also be challenged to continue to provide a world-class experience.
One area getting lot of attention, Ripa says, is the rapidly expanding world of television, apps and online media and projecting what that will look like in 2021.
“The exposure for golf is growing, which will only benefit San Diego,” Ripa says. “In the end, it’s great for the players, the sponsors and the Tour as a whole, but it’s something you have to be prepared for. We want people from around the world to have access, and we’ll be ready.”