Adapting to a new generation of golfers

18Birdies Skybox Experience: Arnold Palmer Invitational

By Leia Schwartz

This past weekend, I had the chance to attend the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill thanks to Nextgengolf partner 18Birdies. Being a student in close proximity at Stetson University, I have been to the tournament before, but nothing tops this experience.               

When I arrived on site, I met up with former NCCGA South Florida Regional Coordinator Chris Mari who was my 18Birdies partner in crime for the weekend. We received special passes to park next to the 6th hole and walk right on to the course through a separate entrance. After watching some players on the range, seeing Tiger Woods and Justin Rose tee off, and grabbing our photo at the Arnold Palmer statue, we made our way over to the 18th Green Sky Box.        

We walked under an archway that read “Welcome to #18 Sky Box” as we entered our VIP experience full of free food, free drinks, and the most amazing view of the 18th green. From prime rib and shrimp scampi to all of the Arnold Palmer’s I could drink while watching some of the best golf I have seen, it felt like heaven.

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We met up with Mark Gosen, Events Manager at 18Birdies, and Darcy Stephens, Director of Sponsorship and Events for 18Birdies, discussing our experiences with their app through Nextgengolf and NCCGA events and sharing stories from our times with Club Golf. I especially enjoyed connecting with Darcy on growing the game for women, a passion I was able to share as the former NCCGA Women’s Golf Ambassador.

Sunday at Bay Hill couldn’t have been any better. The crowds were rolling in by the masses to watch Big Cat’s return and see who would take the red cardigan home (reminds me of NCCGA’s red jacket!). We even got to catch up with some Srixon players while we were there, grabbing pictures with Graeme McDowell and JB Holmes. Tiger Woods’ return to golf has been exciting to say the least, but I could do without fighting the 20-person-deep crowds to see the action. Thanks to 18Birdies, we didn’t have to! We had front row seats for the final stretch, getting to see the pros work their magic. Five players were separated by one shot until Rory McIlroy made five birdies in his last six holes, claiming his first PGA Tour win since 2016. Eerily enough, his last victory came the day that Arnold Palmer passed, making this win even more special.

Up in the Sky Box, we watched the entire trophy ceremony unfold, including touching words from the King’s family, our champion Rory, and Kelly Tilghman’s final Golf Channel appearance (for now). I cannot thank Mark, Darcy, and the team from 18Birdies and Nextgengolf enough for creating this experience for us. Having interned in golf partnerships in the past, it was incredible getting a behind the scenes look and truly being able to enjoy all aspects of the event. Arnold Palmer once said, “Concentration, Confidence, Competitive urge, Capacity for enjoyment.” My time with Nextgengolf has taught me all of the above, but 18Birdies truly helped bring the enjoyment last weekend.

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