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Breezy Point

Local Golf
September 24, 2017

A Talk With Tournament Director, Nate Pokrass
Nate Pokrass being interviewd on Garbedian on Golf during the 2016 tournament.
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Nate Pokrass being interviewd on Garbedian on Golf during the 2016 tournament.
Nate Pokrass, far left, during check presentation to Second Harvest Food Bank.
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Nate Pokrass, far left, during check presentation to Second Harvest Food Bank.
By R.J. Smiley

As the second annual PGA TOUR Champions American Family Insurance Championship approaches, Tee Times spent a few minutes with Nate Pokrass, tournament director. Tee Times attempts to give our readers a behind-the-scenes-look at the job of the tournament director..

Tee Times: Before we learn about your background and qualifications, tell us how the American Family Insurance Championship was conceived?

Nate Pokrass: Five years ago Steve Stricker became a Brand Ambassador for American Family Insurance . As part of the agreement, the Steve Stricker American Family Insurance Foundation was created. The mission of the Foundation is to support charities, educational initiatives and organizations aimed at building strong families and healthy kids, empowering them to pursue and achieve their dreams.Stricker had a dream to bring professional golf back to his home state of Wisconsin. American Family and Stricker agreed to pursue a PGA TOUR Champions event in Madison. In May of 2015, an agreement with the PGA TOUR Champions was created, with the inaugural tournament scheduled for June of 2016. I was hired shortly thereafter and the whirlwind began.

TT: Where did you develop the education and experience to handle the job of director of a professional golf tournament?

NP: I have a BA in Business Administration from Monmouth College (IL) and a Masters in Sports Administration from Minnesota State Mankato (MN). For 20 years prior to taking my current position I had been working in college athletics business development and event management. I spent 10 of those years in Madison working for the University of Wisconsin Athletic Department.

TT: In a nutshell, describe your duties as Tournament Director?

NP: My responsibilities as tournament director are broad-based. From working with the PGA TOUR, meeting with sponsors, securing operational vendors, promoting the event with media, and providing overall strategic planning for the tournament, just to name a few. We have a strong team in place to help implement all responsibilities in executing the tournament.

TT: With that wide range of responsibilities, how large is your staff? Full time and part time?

NP: We have full time staff of three and five part-time people who provide support in specific aspects of tournament planning. Additionally, we have the support of many American Family Insurance employees. However the backbone of our tournament team is the 1,000 volunteers that work during tournament week doing a variety of jobs. Gail Perla who has been with American Family for over 36 years leads the volunteers. She has a great passion for golf with 15 years of experience working for the Greater Milwaukee Open, she has the perfect combination of experience and enthusiasm to lead our volunteer base

TT: With the U.S. Open in Wisconsin during the same month, do you feel that event will have any negative effect on support for the American Family Insurance Championship?

NP: We feel the two events in the same month is a great benefit for the entire golf community in Wisconsin. 'The world's eyes of golf will be focused on Wisconsin in June and we're confident we are providing a great experience that will bring fans back to our event for a second year.

TT: Explain the history of the Saturday Celebrity Foursome exhibition?

NP: For the first American Family Insurance Championship Steve Stricker was not yet eligible to compete on the PGA TOUR Champions. Our team wanted Steve to have an opportunity to play in front of the fans so we came up with the idea of a 9-hole exhibition. U.S. Open Champion and Wisconsin native, Andy North, Green Bay Packer great Brett Farve and Mark Tauscher, a Badger and Packer star filled out the foursome. The exhibition wholeheartedly embraced by the fans so we are repeating it again this year. Steve will participate in the tournament this year, but Andy and Brett will be joined by baseball all-star Derek Jeter, and Darius Rucker, who will also host an outdoor concert on Friday night during tournament week in downtown Madison..

TT: Last year the American Family Insurance Championship drew over 56,000 golf fans. What was the overall economic impact to the City of Madison and the State of Wisconsin?

NP: In partnership with the Madison Convention and Visitors Bureau, we estimated the inaugural event had an economic impact of over $12 million.

TT: Congratulations on your very successful first tournament and your nearly $1.1 million in proceeds. Who has the responsibility of selecting the recipients?

NP: The Foundation board of directors reviews grant applications and determines the allocation of charitable amounts and recipients. Steve Stricker and his wife Nicki are actively involved in the decision process along with American Family Insurance over the proceeds of nearly $1.1 million was awarded, half to American Family Children's Hospital, and the remaining other local charitable organizations.

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