Arnold Palmer Invitational Main Entrance

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Mastercard, White Claw, PUMA and More Tee Up Winning Fan Experiences

“If you talk to any golf person who works in the business, Thursday tickets are usually a hard sell because people can get away with getting off work Friday, but on Thursday, it’s typically the hardcore golf fan who comes out. So we were thinking, ‘What can we do with this [Throwback Thursday] event that attracts those fans, leverages our partners and gives them a good experience?’”

—Cavender Neutze, Marketing Manager, Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard

Arnold Palmer Invitational Scenery

Golf fans enjoyed the action on the green, as well as the Florida wildlife and scenery.

Since moving to the Bay Hill Club & Lodge in 1979, the Arnold Palmer Invitational has become not only a signature event on the PGA TOUR, but also one of Orlando’s biggest sporting events that draws golf fans and locals alike. Presented by Mastercard, the tournament has welcomed top talent from around the world to compete on a course surrounded by beautiful homes, lush gardens and trees, brilliant ponds and a sea of Arnold Palmer’s famous multicolored golf umbrellas.

Held March 4-10, the 59th annual Arnold Palmer Invitational saw 27-year-old Texan Scottie Scheffler win his second career PGA TOUR victory and come away with the champion red cardigan, just like the one Palmer used to wear. Over the week, thousands of golf fans gathered to watch the field of 69 players in action and enjoy the growing number of exclusive experiences and brand activations that popped up around the course.

“This tournament is an opportunity for brands to help tell their stories and get that hands-on connection with fans,” Cavender Neutze, marketing manager for the Arnold Palmer Invitational, told EM ahead of the event. “There are a lot of people who come out to a golf tournament not understanding all that it encompasses, and they see that there’s so much more than just golf going on.”

From Mastercard’s continuously evolving cardholder club to PUMA Golf’s summer-themed lounge (more on these below), sponsors worked collaboratively with the API team to outline the best footprints and experiences to reach their engagement goals.

nbc-sports-players-island-2023-puttingMORE ON GOLF TOURNAMENT ACTIVATIONS:

Located in the middle of a neighborhood, the tournament is a logistical challenge to balance the daily needs of residents with the thousands of fans flowing in and out throughout the week, Neutze said. And it was certainly a unique experience to drive by houses on narrow streets, seeing how organizers set up temporary parking lots and structures, and work with local law enforcement to manage the increased traffic inside and outside the community.

Each year, the API team takes fan feedback to heart to improve the attendee experience, like creating an efficient ride share drop-off area and increasing concession options. Returning for a second year, the expanded Fan Village on No. 9 brought together several sponsor booths, f&b offerings and covered seating after a positive response from 2023’s participating brands. In partnership with Primrose Schools, which also presented an autograph area, API offered children 15 and younger free grounds access with an accompanying ticketed adult, leaning into making the tournament a more family-friendly event.

Here, we highlight 11 activations and events that captured our attention as a first-time attendee walking around Bay Hill’s 18-hole course.



Arnold Palmer Invitational Mastercard Club

It’s no surprise that presenting sponsor Mastercard showed out with the largest, most engaging activation. Celebrating its 20-year partnership with the API, the brand welcomed cardholders into its exclusive (and literally elevated) hospitality area, the Mastercard Club. With a flash of their Mastercard, attendees proceeded upstairs into a black tent where they followed clear tubed stanchions filled with Mastercard golf balls to a registration desk.

There, cardholders received a commemorative pin and plantable wristband embedded with wildflower seeds so that post-tournament, they could give the wristband a second life. Messaging on the white, textured wristbands said, “Discover why this wristband is priceless” (the brand’s enduring slogan), and included a QR code that led to information on Mastercard’s sustainability efforts at the invitational and instructions for planting the wristband. What’s more, each wristband was spritzed with Priceless Optimism, a signature fragrance from Mastercard with notes of citrus—perfect for the Florida setting.

Arnold Palmer Invitational Mastercard tunnel

Attendees could explore Mastercard’s tech and solutions through a multisensory tunnel experience.

In the center of the club stood a walkthrough, multisensory tunnel experience that immersed attendees in the brand’s digital banking solutions. Inside the black-walled tunnel, animated bubbles, maps and graphics in the brand’s iconic red and yellow colors surrounded attendees, moving from the ceiling to the floor, accompanied by narration. On one of the exterior walls of the tunnel, Mastercard set up three screens, each displaying an interactive demo that provided a look at Mastercard’s technology and future concepts, such as an AI-driven putting simulator that analyzed swing data, a personalized AI shopping tool that used participants’ eyes to move the cursor around the screen and a shopping assistant with virtual try-ons.

Across the aisle, cardholders could sign up for Pass to Priceless, an NFT scavenger hunt. Once participants registered through MoonPay, the official wallet provider for the Mastercard Web3 platform, they could claim the Mastercard Club’s digital collectible to kick off the hunt for three more distributed around the course to win prizes and special experiences at next year’s tournament. Each check-in location was a tall standing display with a Mastercard reader that users would tap their phone to, and brand ambassadors were on hand at each site to assist. Plus, the brand offered 2,000 cardholders a connected golf hat that unlocked personalized content accessible after the tournament.

The Mastercard Club also featured an Xbox gaming station, a putting activity, an augmented reality photo experience, a full bar, table seating and views of the driving range, putting green and ninth hole. Mastercard ambassadors—including pro golfers Max Homa, Viktor Hovland and Justin Rose—met fans via a new player walkway. On the 14th green, the Mastercard Palmer Patio treated cardholders to air conditioning, a variety of seating options, a bar, and complimentary food and non-alcoholic beverages.



Arnold Palmer Invitational Foodies & Fairways

Two Orlando businesses were selected via a contest to showcase their food at the tournament.

Giving golf fans a taste of Orlando, the Foodies & Fairways Small Business Marketplace featured two local eateries, Papi Smash’d Burger and Charlie’s Bakery & Creamery, which were selected via the Mastercard and Capital One Business Foodies & Fairways contest. Stationed off the 18th tee, the businesses were part of a block of four side-by-side white f&b booths, which also included Capital One Business’ Foodies & Fairway Lounge and a beverage stand. The walk-up windows of Papi Smash’d Burger and Charlie’s Bakery & Creamery gave attendees a peek into the unique décor and branding featured at their brick-and-mortar locations, and borders of the sponsors’ logos wrapped around the tented exteriors.

Along with the opportunity to showcase their food at a premium concession space during the tournament, both businesses received financial grants, access to Mastercard’s Digital Doors toolkit and one-on-one mentorship with Ginger Siegel, head of small business for Mastercard North America. The specialty Arnold Palmer Sorbet served by Charlie’s Bakery & Creamery certainly kept us cool in the sunny, 85-degree weather.



Right next door, The Orlando Health Family Care Suites provided attendees with young children a dedicated space to take a break inside an air-conditioned venue stocked with complimentary diapers, a changing table, a private nursing area, a phone charging station, comfy seating and oversized board games. The Orlando Health Kids Zone drew families with an animal- and golf-themed coloring mural wall, and a mini-golf course featuring Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children obstacles and kid-sized golf clubs. A second, smaller Family Care Suite was located off the ninth fairway.

In addition, Orlando Health, the tournament’s associate partner, provided medical care at a tent along hole No. 10, as well as hand sanitizing and sunscreen stations throughout the course. With minimal shady areas, fans actively lathered on the free sunscreen to beat the rays.



The Arnie’s Army Experience off the 18th green employed an experiential strategy to present the ways Arnold Palmer’s legacy continues to impact golf and to highlight the work of The Arnold & Winnie Palmer Foundation, which champions children’s health, nature-focused wellness and scholarships. Tall green walls wrapped around three sides of the boxed outdoor footprint displaying large prints of photos from Palmer’s life and golf career interspliced with quotes and background information on the foundation and Arnie’s Army.

Arnold Palmer Invitational Arnie's Army Putting Green

The Arnie’s Army Experience featured several putting areas for golfers to try.

The experience’s main attractions were three putting areas that invited fans to step onto the green for themselves. The first putting green was a large rectangular space with six holes and the Arnold Palmer Umbrella logo emblazoned across the grass. Two long putting greens offered more of a straight-shot mini-golf experience, allowing two golfers to play at once. For a $10 donation to the foundation, participants could use Palmer’s own putters and vintage golf balls from the Palmer Collection. Short walls around the adjacent putting greens featured “I am a member of Arnie’s Army” logos on one side and on the other, continued displays about the foundation’s commitment to place-based ecology education and the Winnie Palmer Nature Reserve.

Fans could also take photos with Palmer’s 1947 Toro tractor from Latrobe Country Club, a 1957 E-Z-GO golf cart and one of his Masters trophies; purchase merch from the Arnie’s Army Gear tent; collect free Arnie’s Army pins; and enjoy some of Palmer’s favorite snacks from the f&b tent. Picnic table seating shaded by the signature multicolored umbrella offered fans a place to rest.



The fan-favorite, sold-out White Claw Fan Deck on the 16th tee returned this year with a bigger footprint and enhanced perks. Bringing its surf board-themed Shore Club to golf fans after having activated at the Kentucky Derby and SXSW, White Claw offered drinks for purchase and a photo op area that allowed participants to snap a still photo or record looping videos and GIFs. Brand ambassadors passed out black sunglasses embellished with the White Claw logo that were enthusiastically sported in the photo booth.

Arnold Palmer Invitational White Claw Fan Deck

White Claw Fan Deck ticketholders enjoyed a variety of seating options in front of the big screen.

The brand kept the beachy vibes going with white Adirondack chairs and cushioned sofas and ottomans positioned in front of a White Claw Fan Deck-branded big screen playing live ESPN coverage of the API. Fans kicked back with hot dogs and concessions exclusively available for ticketholders. New shade structures with stools and countertops facing the green brought fans closer to the on-course action.



For attendees over 21, Club Ketel One’s enclosed tent on the 18th fairway offered much-needed AC and chilled beverages, ranging from an espresso martini to a peach botanical spritz. The vodka brand infused the space with a clean, modern design of light wood flooring, red chairs, TVs to watch the tournament and white shelving behind the bar accented with copper “K” letters. The display alternated between vodka bottles and potted plants, and the greenery carried over to small plants on each table and a large leafy wall adorned with the white Ketel One Vodka Family Made logo for photo ops. A Ketel One Botanicals pop-up by the 10th hole offered fruity beverages for purchase.



Bushmills Irish Whiskey, the Official Whiskey of the PGA TOUR, created an elegant bar experience with leather cushioned stools, wood flooring, velvet ropes and gold décor like shelving units and plant pots. A branded greenery wall and cognac leather couch served as a photo op space in the outdoor footprint. While attendees sipped on signature cocktails Joel Dahmen’s Juicy Lie, Member’s Bounce and Irish iced coffee, they could try their hand at hook and ring tabletop games. At its wood-paneled bar, Bushmills offered 15-minute single malt whiskey guided tastings for which fans could register through a QR code.

Arnold Palmer Invitational Bushmills

Whiskey fans enjoyed Bushmills’ elegant bar footprint as part of the Fan Village on No. 9.



New sponsor of the tournament’s volunteer program and Monday Pro-Am, Chick-fil-A brought an extra family-friendly touch to the Fan Village on No. 9, where attendees could swing by for cookie and brownie samples and a photo op with the brand’s iconic cows dressed in their best sporty attire. Participants could sit on a red couch (a deep cut from Chick-fil-A’s “It’s the Little Things” campaign) between plush cows or pose with inflatable golf clubs. During the Pro-Am, Chick-fil-A Greater Orlando Area donated $30,000 to The Arnold & Winnie Palmer Foundation after a monthlong campaign to raise money across all of its Central Florida locations.

Arnold Palmer Invitational Chick-fil-A cows photo op

Kids and families were excited to jump into Chick-fil-A’s photo op with the brand’s iconic cows.



Complementing the Fan Village’s new food court, the PUMA brand was featured across the covered dining area and a big screen presenting the live telecast. Steps away, the PUMA Golf booth celebrated the launch of the PUMA x Arnold Palmer Collection with a bright yellow and pink decorated retail space inspired by Palmer’s half iced tea, half lemonade drink, which was also on tap and ready to cool off attendees who stopped in. Baskets of lemons, striped furniture, faux awnings, floral cushions and wallpaper, and shelves and racks displaying the collection’s shoes, hats and apparel created a summery shop façade that doubled as a lounge.



The golf experience got groovy at the sold-out Throwback Thursday event on March 7. Housed in The Landing’s spacious, covered, open-air tent off the ninth fairway, the three-hour event took 600 ticket-holding fans on a journey back in time through the tournament’s history all the way to its founding in the ’60s. A 10-foot-tall by 16-foot-wide photo wall split into three sections presented timelines and history on Arnold Palmer, Bay Hill and the invitational, and was accompanied by a QR code to learn more about each displayed photo.

Arnold Palmer Invitational Throwback Thursday tent

The Throwback Thursday event gave ticketholders the chance to cool down, enjoy f&b, and learn about Arnold Palmer and the tournament’s history.

“Prior to last year, we had events there Friday, Saturday and Sunday, but we didn’t have anything for Thursday,” said API’s Neutze. “If you talk to any golf person who works in the business, Thursday tickets are usually a hard sell because people can get away with getting off work Friday, but on Thursday, it’s typically the hardcore golf fan who comes out. So we were thinking, ‘What can we do with this event that attracts those fans, leverages our partners and gives them a good experience?’”

Ticketholders received an exclusive throwback cap, complimentary Michelob ULTRA beer and the chance to snap photos next to a past year’s sword trophy. A concession stand featured throwback pricing on hot dogs, Frito pies, pigs in a blanket, popcorn and other snacks that attendees could enjoy at one of dozens of round tables. Drinkware brand Corkcicle, the first-time Throwback Thursday sponsor, encouraged participants to guess the number of tees in a jar for a chance to win a golf-themed prize.



No sporting event is complete without the chance to come away with official souvenirs, and the Fanatics Experience Merchandise Tent was the spot to hit. With two locations, at the main entrance and near the first tee, the tents drew fans looking to commemorate their time at the API with plenty of branded memorabilia, hats, apparel, hairclips, plush bears and, of course, golf balls. The Fanatics logo was prominently displayed on the exterior of the tents and above product stands inside. Fans who made purchases using a Mastercard saved 10 percent, and an expansive, wavy banner hung across the ceiling of the main entrance tent spread the word on the discount.

Arnold Palmer Invitational Fanatics Shop

The larger of two shop locations, the Fanatics Experience Merchandise Tent offered API-branded hats, apparel, umbrellas, novelties and golf gear.

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