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Carnevale likes the challenge of being a tournament director

By Helen Ross
PGATOUR.COM Chief of Correspondents

Mark Carnevale has played golf all over the United States. He's won on the PGA TOUR and the Nationwide Tour, too.

As he traveled the country chasing that little white ball around, Carnevale formed definite opinions about what tournaments did well -- and where the organizers could improve. He saw first-hand how important volunteers are to the success of the event, as well.

For the last five months, Carnevale has put his ideas to the test as the tournament director of the Nationwide Tour's Virginia Beach Open Presented by ACS Systems & Engineering, Inc. This week, he's watching anxiously while everything comes together at the Tournament Players Club of Virginia Beach.

"It's very rewarding," Carnevale said in a telephone interview. "Many of the players and pro-am participants have come up and said we're doing a great job. That's nice to hear. We just want to put it all together well so we can raise a lot of money for charity."

Carnevale was the PGA TOUR Rookie of the Year in 1992, the same year he won the Chattanooga Classic. For the next decade, he competed regularly on either the PGA TOUR or Nationwide Tour.

In recent years, though, Carnevale, who celebrates his 42nd birthday next week, had been thinking more and more about getting into the management side of golf. He even tried to put together a Nationwide Tour event in the Charleston, S.C., area.

Mark Carnevale is the tournament director of the VB Open.  (AP) 
Mark Carnevale is the tournament director of the VB Open. (AP) 
Last September fate intervened as Carnevale was playing in the SEI Pennsylvania Classic. At dinner one night he ran into Butch Liebler, who mentioned to Carnevale that he had resigned as the tournament director at the VB Open.

Carnevale, who was born in Annapolis, Md., was immediately interested. He had been thinking about moving closer to his parents and he had many friends in the Williamsburg area. So he decided to pursue the job and was eventually hired in the middle of December last year.

With only 4 ½ months to organize an event that normally takes the better part of a year, Carnevale admits to flying by the seat of his pants at times. But he had several key staff members to rely on, and together they put the finishing touches on the $450,000 event.

"I may have the ideas, but if you don't have the right people around you, it doesn't happen," Carnevale said. "We have great people working here. We have a wonderful facility at a TPC and a golf course that's in great condition."

The hardest part of the job, Carnevale says, was asking people for sponsorship dollars. The easiest was working with the tournament's 500 or so volunteers, a constituency Carnevale learned to appreciate during his years as a player.

"Without them, the tournament doesn't happen," he said simply.

Carnevale's goal was to make the VB Open an "event -- not just a golf tournament," with activities throughout the week. Toward that end, a band will play Friday night. The annual junior clinic has been moved from early in the week to Saturday afternoon.

Everything has been designed to get the community involved.

"The tournament is not about the players," Carnevale said. "The tournament is about the community and the charity. The players are like the encore.

"It's like when you have a big corporate dinner and you have a speaker. The players are like the speaker. They are here for a week and then they're gone. You have to create something that makes the community want to participate all year long."

Carnevale may get a twinge or two when he watches one of his friends tee it up this week. But he likes the new challenge he's facing on the other side of the ropes.

"I can't tell you how many times people have said, 'Are you playing in your own tournament?'" Carnevale said. "I miss the competitive part of it. But I don't miss the travel, and I don't miss being out there grinding when you're not playing well.

"I hope this will be a good substitute. It won't replace playing golf but it will add to my understanding as a whole of professional golf. That's in a sense what drives me. I feel like I can make a difference to the tournament and the Nationwide Tour as a whole."


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