Golfing for good

by Ryan McCarthy
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Sanderson
Sanderson Farms offers local public school students the chance to learn to play golf during its clinic day preceding the tournament. 
 
Mike Cockrell, CFO of Laurel, Mississippi-based Sanderson Farms, is more of a tennis fan than a golf fan.

But there is plenty about the PGA Tour’s Sanderson Farms Championship in Jackson, Mississippi, that always makes him proud to work for the company that supports the annual event.

For starters, the youth golf clinic held before the tournament has made a major impression on Cockrell. There is nothing more enjoyable than watching young people try their hand at playing the game, he says.

“When the Jackson County public school kids come down and play, that’s one of my favorite parts,” Cockrell says. “When I see 6 through 16-year-olds line it up, that’s one of the best parts of the tournament for me.”

The Sanderson Farms Championship started as the Magnolia State Open in 1968. Through the years the event brought top golf talent from across the world, but without Sanderson Farms becoming the title sponsor in 2013, there was speculation that the tournament could vacate its spot on the tour schedule.

Steve Jent, the executive director of the Sanderson Farms Championship, which was held this year from Oct. 26-29, knows that his job would be difficult without a lead sponsor like Sanderson Farms.

“They make my life and my staff’s life easier just because of how much it means to them and how hard they work at it and the relationships they bring with their business partners,” Jent says.

With year-round organization and fundraising, Jent and his team work with Sanderson on executing the game plan for the weeklong event each October.

“Everybody from [Sanderson Farms CEO] Joe Sanderson on down, they’ve really injected enthusiasm into the tournament, not only in the local economy but with their business partners,” he says. “They’re just great to work with.”

An economic impact study conducted by Mississippi State Univ. determined that the tournament typically infuses $22 million into the state. Outside the tournament itself, there are a variety of events that happen on the grounds of the Country Club of Jackson that week.

Jonathan James, a corporate quality assurance manager at Sanderson, says the event is on his family’s vacation calendar each year.

“I have brought my family to the tournament for the last three years, and my children absolutely love coming,” James says. “There’s a kids area that has a lot of games for them; they can watch the players on the practice and driving range. Players take the time to interact with fans, especially kids, as they are walking on and off the greens.”

Sanderson Farms
Sanderson Farms presents on annual check to the Batson Children's Hospital in Jackson, Mississippi, funded by tournament proceeds.
 

Giving back

And with that family atmosphere, James and the rest of Sanderson Farms can support a cause near and dear to their hearts: Batson Children’s Hospital in Jackson. Last year, Century Club Charities, which works with Sanderson Farms, raised $1.13 million for Friends of Children’s Hospital, the fundraising arm for Batson Children’s Hospital.

Along with the charitable giving and volunteering, the picturesque landscape of the golf course allows James and Sanderson employees to invite guests and get to know customers outside the meeting rooms and processing plants.

“The tournament has allowed us to interact with our customers, to bring them in for the pro-am tournament during the week and host them on the weekends,” James says. “It’s a great opportunity for us to network with customers.”

But it’s not just about the client; involving employees is important too.

Jenny Katool, a product development manager for Sanderson, is proud to have played a part in helping more people enjoy the event, starting with the Women’s Day.

This opportunity at the golf course allows Mississippi business women and state leaders to mingle and network at the venue. The event is highlighted by a presentation by a prominent woman keynote speaker. This year, Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson addressed the group in a spirited presentation.

“It’s kind of a bonding day for the women. You don’t have to be a big golf fan,” Katool says. “Sanderson has always taken the lead. It did not surprise me when we became the lead sponsor for this championship. There was a need. It didn’t have a sponsor, and Joe Sanderson and the executive committee took that lead.”

Sanderson Farms
The pro-am allows indviduals who have a love for golf to interact with some of the PGA Tour players who compete later in the week. 
 
One of Katool’s fondest memories during tournament week was the non-denominational church service held on the Sunday before the final round. The service raised money for Stewpot Community Services, a non-profit that helps the less fortunate in the Jackson community.

Katool, who normally runs the test kitchen at Sanderson, realizes how important a service like this can be to the community.

“I’m around food all day, but I’m always keenly aware of people who do not have food,” she says. “So when we give to Stewpot, it’s great.”

The hundreds of volunteers like Katool are invaluable to the tournament. For that reason, Sanderson Farms gives any employee choosing to volunteer at the charity events paid time off.

“We couldn’t do the tournament without it,” Cockrell says of the help from volunteers. “All sporting events like this rely so heavily on volunteers whether it’s to hold a sign that says ‘quiet,’ or being a runner and fetching stuff for people, or to help the golf tournament officials direct traffic outside.”

The bottom line for Cockrell comes down to the simple moments of the tournament, like enjoying the championship or helping the people of Mississippi.

“It’s not really about the chicken that week of golf, it’s about helping the community of Jackson and raising money for the children’s hospital,” Cockrell says.


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