What do you do when you've sunk several hundred million dollars into a housing project and then, a decade later, still have plenty of inventory to unload?
Invite a national TV audience to tune in to a three-hour prime-time special featuring celebrities strolling around your project.
David H. Murdock, real estate developer and chief executive of Dole Food Co. Inc. and Castle & Cooke Inc., is essentially doing just that for free.
The first live golfing event ever broadcast during prime time, called "Showdown at Sherwood," will be held on Aug. 2 at his Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks a course set in the middle of an 1,800-acre development project where condominiums start at $500,000 and homes go for $1.5 million or more.
The event pits golf's top superstars, Tiger Woods and David Duval, against each other.
Murdock is paying organizer International Management Group $1 million to host the showdown, but that essentially will be offset because he gets to keep the proceeds from ticket sales, according to Carol Kellogg, tournament coordinator for IMG.
Only 3,000 tickets will be sold, but the prices range from $225 to $550, effectively enabling Murdock to recoup his costs.
"Obviously we'd love to make money," said Alexandra Castenskiold, general manager of Sherwood Country Club. "But it's more about exposure and P.R. value and prestige."
Exposure indeed. Television cameras will be showing all angles of the property, from both the ground and air (blimp) perspectives. Announcers will drop in facts about the 7,007-yard course, and its surrounding environment.
And a national TV audience will be right there to take it all in.
Murdock, estimated by the Business Journal to be worth $620 million, is looking to promote more than his homes of which only about 40 percent had been sold as of a year ago. He also hopes to sell country club memberships.
Around the time the project first opened in 1989, he was charging homebuyers $150,000 for a club membership and non-residents $225,000. Annual dues were $6,000 on top of that. But then the recession hit, and the membership rolls plummeted.
Castenskiold declined to specify how many members belong today, or what a membership costs. But she did say that memberships are up 50 percent from their early-'90s slump.
"It's an honor to have the No. 1 and 2 players in the world play on our course," Castenskiold said. "More people that learn about the show means more members, and spills over into the other areas."
Kathy Schloessman, president of the Los Angeles Sports and Entertainment Commission, which lobbies to bring major sporting and entertainment events to the city, said: "It's about prestige more than money, and eventually that translates into money.
"It helps with existing members and makes them feel they belong to a club where a U.S. Open or other tournament was. As a private club, it adds more cachet and can help boost membership," she said.
Because the Showdown is just a single, three-hour round, it likely won't draw as many out-of-town fans as would the U.S. Open or another week-long tournament. But because it's being aired in prime time, Sherwood will get the eyes of golfers and non-golfers, nationwide.
ABC paid $1.5 million for the right to air the exhibition, and the network is expecting it to deliver ratings significantly higher than summer reruns, though it hasn't predicted a specific audience share.
"No one had any idea that the Women's World Cup would draw 40 million viewers," said ABC Sports spokesman Adam Friefeld. "There's the standard golf audience that will watch, and there's other people. Tiger brings a star quality to it. People in the audience are watching an entertainment golf event."
Afterward, some golfers are likely to be drawn to the course for vicarious reasons. "People want to see how well they would fare (on a course where superstars played); it's their way of playing against Tiger and Duval," Schloessman said.
Woods and Duval are both going to do well, too. The winner of the "Showdown at Sherwood" gets $1.1 million and the loser gets $400,000, with each agreeing to donate $200,000 of their prize money to their favorite charity.
Murdock had to compete against other exclusive clubs around the country. Sherwood was ultimately selected partly because of its West Coast location, which will allow for sunlight play during prime-time viewing hours on the East Coast. But that wasn't the only factor. The course is popular with golfers and for the past decade has been the site of the Shark Shootout, a popular golf tournament hosted by pro Greg Norman.
The course has also hosted a number of high-profile fund-raisers over the years and has had several celebrities as members, including former presidents George Bush, Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford, along with actors Tom Selleck and Robert Wagner.
But network television provides the biggest draw.
"In the case of the Nissan Open, it's two blimps hovering over your city," said Mike Haviland, economic development director for Santa Clarita. "They mention the name of your city. How much is that worth? Lots."
And how much is Murdock paying for that? Nothing.
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