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Mason returns home to direct Ford Senior Players Championship
by Greg Johnson

Jeff Mason signed on as championship director of the Ford Senior Players Championship and came home at the same time. He calls it a double bonus. “It’s something that’s an every day challenge for me, and moving home just makes it that much more special,” he said.

Mason, 40, his wife, Millie (Lindquist), and their one-year-old son Josh, reside in Canton, just 3.8 miles from where Mason’s boyhood home. “We live in what used to be a cornfield, and I picked corn there,” he said. His job these days is to harvest a major championship on the Senior PGA Tour each year at the TPC of Michigan, and he relishes the opportunity. “I love working with volunteers and the challenge of raising charitable dollars,” he said. Those are his key roles as championship director, but he also oversees total administration of the tournament, serves as a sponsor liaison, and keeps his hand on the pulse of advertising, promotions, client services, operations and sales.

“It’s very similar to what I’ve done, and yet different because it’s a different community, a different tournament and I work for the PGA Tour now,” he said. Mason spent the last five years working with Pro Links Management Group, which runs several Senior Tour events around the country and administered three of the recent U.S. Senior Opens for the United States Golf Association (USGA). Prior to that he lived in Grand Rapids for eight years where he wore several management and hands-on hats as part of the Grand Rapids Jaycees, who own an operate the Senior PGA Tour stop there (now called the Foremost Insurance Championship). Mason most recently lived in Des Moines, Iowa, where he managed the record-setting (attendance, revenue) 1999 U.S. Senior Open. He feels the Ford Senior Players Championship rivals that major in field, purse and quality, but trails in public perception and awareness.

“This is a major championship, one of four on the Senior Tour, and I’m not sure the perception is there, or that people appreciate it as truly a major,” he said. “I’ve been asked to take it to the next level, in terms of awareness and on the sponsorship and sales levels. We’re going to expand our markets, and we’re going to let people know we are a major.”

His early days on the job have been spent learning how things have been done in the past, adding new groups like Massachusetts Financial Services to the sponsorship ranks and getting to know the people involved with the tournament. Three of his four-person staff in the office are new to the tournament, including him. “We will be doing things much the way they have before in a lot of areas, especially volunteers where they have an 80 percent return, which is very good,” he said. “We need to see one before we can change many things. We might find out not that many things need to be changed. This has been a very good tournament.”

One thing Mason feels he will address with the PGA is the course set-up for the tournament each year. He feels the Jack Nicklaus-designed TPC of Michigan course should produce scores more in line with major championships instead of low scores produced regularly at most Senior PGA Tour stops. “I think that can help with the perception as a major, even though I’m willing to admit my views on that could be skewed because I’ve dealt with the USGA the last few years,” he said. “This course is certainly a great challenge and can be more of a challenge. I know the players will tell you that.”

In the end, Mason wants to embrace the tradition the tournament has established in the Detroit market and add to it. He also wants to grow the relationship with title sponsor Ford Motor Co., which has three years remaining on its current contract with the PGA. “The Masters wasn’t the Masters in the first 10 years,” he said. “It grew over time. We just want to make the right decisions so this major championship can grow, and Ford wants that, too.” As for returning home again, Mason finds it truly comfortable. “It’s great to be back among family and friends after 22 years,” he said. “We had great friends in Des Moines, in Grand Rapids, and other places we’ve been, but this is home.”

Greg Johnson is the golf writer for The Grand Rapids Press.

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