Golf Course Hit by Criticism for 9/11 Promo

September 10, 2013

MSN Money

Tumbledown Trails in Wisconsin has come under fire, with its owner reportedly receiving death threats, for offering 9 holes of golf for $9.11 on the anniversary of the terror attacks.

Was it crass commercialism, historical insensitivity or just being tone deaf to the times? Whatever the reason, a family-owned golf course in Wisconsin is coming under intense criticism for its special 9/11 offer.

In a local newspaper ad, the Tumbledown Trails Golf Course near Madison offered to commemorate the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks by offering nine holes of golf, with a cart, for $9.11 per person — “or 18 holes with cart for only $19.11!”

The offer was good only on Wednesday, Sept. 11.

Tumbledown’s owner and general manager, Marc Watts, told The Associated Press the course’s 9/11 promotion actually began two years ago and had been warmly received. But this year, social media helped spread the ad, and anger over the promotion began to pop up in a variety of places. And despite several apologies on the golf course’s Facebook (FB -1.00%) page, the anger remains.

“Shame in you all for even contemplating making money on our country’s worst tragedy,” wrote one recent poster. “You deserve all the backlash you get from this!” Another added this: “I’m astounded that a group of marketing professionals would come up with such an obvious and incredibly offensive idea, and, even more astounded that you would sign off on it. Good luck to you — you’re certainly going to need it.”

MSN moneyNOW tried to contact Watts for his side of the story. While that call was not returned, the golf course did have the following message on its voicemail:

“We are no longer accepting tee times for Wednesday, 9/11,” it said. “Please accept our sincere apologies. Our attempt to remember the tragedy of this day has been met with negativity and now even death threats. We ask that you please take a moment to reflect and remember those that we lost that day as we were trying to do. God bless and have a good day.”

Advertising professionals say there’s a right way and a wrong way for companies to mark somber anniversaries and not be called out as disrespectful and opportunistic.

Greg Wagner, advertising professor at the University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business and a former creative director at several large ad agencies, points to a television advertisement Anheuser-Busch InBev (BUD +0.77%) released on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. A team of Budweiser Clydesdale horses saluted Ground Zero in lower Manhattan, the site of the attacks on the New York World Trade Center.

“That was seen, at least from everything I heard, as the right way,” said Wagner. “And they only ran it once. It was like, ‘OK, we’re not out here to sell beer, we’re out here to pay tribute to the victims as well as to the heroes.’”