Hollis Cavner was working at ESPN — “A go-fer, emptying trash cans,” when he met Arnold Palmer.
Years later, after Cavner had run a couple of U.S. Opens and started his own company, he brought Palmer to Blaine to show him the land he had picked out to build Minnesota’s first Tournament Players Club.
“I’d already done the deal with Arnold — he was going to do the design,” Cavner said. “That was our first deal together. The first time he saw the property, he pulled me aside and said, ‘This is all you got?’ I said, ‘Boss, this is all we got.’
“We took a pretty bad sod farm and turned it into one helluva golf course.”
Cavner will be hustling around that course — TPC Twin Cities — all week during the inaugural 3M Open. Cavner has brought the PGA Tour back to Minnesota.
He first worked in Minnesota when Reed Mackenzie hired him as the director of operations for the 1991 U.S. Open at Hazeltine National. Cavner started Pro Links Sports in Minnesota the following year and started the Burnet Senior Classic, with the help of local entrepreneur Ralph Burnet.
Pro Links Sports, an event management and corporate hospitality business, has become a major player in tournament golf, competing with billion-dollar companies like IMG. The company has offices in Florida, Texas, Minnesota, South Dakota, North Carolina and Mexico.
Cavner ran senior or Champions Tour events in Minnesota through last year, while constantly working to land a PGA Tour stop for Minnesota.
“That actually started back in the ’90s,” he said. “With Arnold and everybody else we worked with, when we were building the TPC we always laid it out for a PGA Tour event. We didn’t need all of this room for a Champions Tour event.”
That spaciousness will come in handy this week. For the last few years of the Champions Tour’s 3M Championship, Cavner didn’t charge admission. For the 3M Open, he has recruited a remarkably strong field and the Zac Brown Band to draw paying audiences to Blaine.
Cavner did so with relentless networking and old-fashioned hospitality. He played host to decisionmakers and celebrities at his home in Augusta, Ga., during the Masters, and leaned on his reputation as someone who treats players well at his tournaments.
At the 3M Championship, Cavner was able to recruit the likes of Palmer, who died in 2016, and Jack Nicklaus; for the 3M Open, he landed a slew of major winners and rising stars.
“If it weren’t for Arnold Palmer, we wouldn’t be where we are today,” Cavner said. “More than anything, he taught you how to treat people. We’d vacation together, and if you couldn’t learn how to treat people from him, you’re an idiot. Day or night, he was nice to everyone.”
Monday, he spoke while bustling around TPC Twin Cities as rain fell. The forecast this week is not promising.
“Our first Burnet Senior Classic, it rained seven straight days,” Cavner said. “It turned out to be one of our greatest events, and the crowds still came out. It we get a little rain this week, that might be the best omen for the next 25 years.
“I think we’re going to have tremendous crowds. And unlike the other events that come to town — the Super Bowls, the Final Fours, that ask the town for millions of dollars and perks — the money we generate stays here, and the charity dollars stay here.
“We didn’t ask for anything. We’re proud of that. This is a partnership between us, Anoka, Blaine and 3M, all working together, and we’re not going to leave in a few years.”
Cavner is 61 and spends “a couple hundred” days a year on the road. He’s preparing his son, Carson, to take over the business someday.
“This has been the ride of a lifetime,” Cavner said. “We finally brought the PGA Tour back to Minnesota, and we can’t wait to celebrate the 10-year anniversary.”