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January 18, 2020

Mike Flaskey

Aaron Stewart

Lake Buena Vista, Florida

THE MODERATOR: After the third round of the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions, we have a special conference today with our guest Mike Flaskey, the CEO of Diamond Resorts. Also have Aaron Stewart here, the Executive Director of the Championship. What we'd like to do is take a few minutes to talk about the state of this event.

Mike, we wanted to get your impressions, first of all, of how things have been going this week, long term for Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions, and take it from there.

MIKE FLASKEY: Thank you. And thank you to all of the media that have come out this week and covered the event of. We're very pleased with the state of the event. In fact, the weather has really topped it off. It was a bit cold last year, and with the great crowds and the weather that we've had this year, we couldn't be happier with where we stand.

We've got an excellent leaderboard going into tomorrow. The player of the decade on the LPGA atop the professional leaderboard and several others very close behind. Then on the celebrity side, having our defending champion John Smoltz up on the leaderboard and in the lead going into the final round, we believe makes up for an exciting Sunday. There are a lot of folks on the celebrity side that are quality golfers that are behind John, and it's shaping up to be a great Sunday.

THE MODERATOR: We all know it is Aaron's first trip out here for the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions. You're the gentleman that brought him on board. Why don't you tell us the reason why and what his responsibilities have been, and we'll turn it over to him.

MIKE FLASKEY: It's very simple. Clear the path so I can just play. No, Aaron has done an amazing job. Aaron and I and some of you have talked with me about this. It's a cool story. Aaron -- I shouldn't say we grew up, but Aaron grew up in the same neighborhood that I live in here in Orlando. While he was playing golf at SMU, we would play a lot during the summers and over the holidays when I was home.

When he made the decision not to pursue professional golf, I thought that what better person to bring into Diamond Resorts. So we brought him into our mentorship program, and he served in a marketing role for a number of years out in Las Vegas. Then he got married and went out and traveled the world, and when he came back, his job was filled.

So we eventually identified a role on the tournament team for him to come back, and I knew in my mind for the long term, from a succession standpoint, he was the right person to ultimately lead this tournament, but we also had a very competent leader doing a great job and the tournament was having wild success under his leadership. When he made the decision to step down and go in a different direction, we had a person right there on the team in Aaron that I was most comfortable giving the reins to, and he's done a great job this year getting us in a great position.

I jokingly say I used to get play by play from the old person, and if someone's not dying, I don't hear from this guy. He goes and does his job, and he does a great job and clears the path so I can go play.

THE MODERATOR: Aaron, obviously, you've been around golf your entire life. You're in a different position now. Is there anything you've seen this week that's kind of surprised you?

AARON STEWART: Well, definitely, to Mike's point there, we got lucky. It's been a great week weather-wise, crowd-wise. As far as surprises, there's definitely some things that we can do better for future years. So I'm definitely kind of looking at this event as it being my first year with the tournament team, with kind of eyes wide open and trying to soak in as much as I can and at the same time keeping my list of ways that we can improve because that's what we're trying to do in 2021.

THE MODERATOR: Obviously, you're carrying on the tradition. How do you think your dad would feel knowing that you're doing what you're doing now?

AARON STEWART: First of all, I'd have to thank him for the weather he sent us. I think he's smiling down on us, taking it easy on me this first week -- or my first year rather. But I think he'd be out here having a blast. This tournament is all about having a good time, and I think that's really what he was best at. He was known for having a great time and making people happy. That's what we're trying to bring out to this event.

THE MODERATOR: We've got a lot of great celebrities out here playing with the best of the LPGA. We wonder how difficult it is for you to be able to decide which celebrities play and which don't. I don't know if that affects some of your friendships or not.

MIKE FLASKEY: I mean, we joke about that, but it's incredibly difficult. We had 141 applications that we couldn't accept. We didn't have room for, for this year's event on the celebrity side, and it does create problems, and it's hard. In the old days, it was a lot easier, but this event has grown and is on everybody's radar now. At the end of the day, we've had to form a committee so that I didn't have to take the heat when no had to be said.

THE MODERATOR: As far as next steps, what do you plan? What do you see? The tournament obviously has grown leaps and bounds in a short time. It's getting great TV ratings. The attendance has been strong. The concept has been accepted as far as the players, the LPGA players and getting along with the celebrities and vice versa. What's next up your sleeve?

MIKE FLASKEY: Well, I would say that -- just a few overarching comments in that vein. First off, we have hit our mark, I think, as it relates to the tournament speaking to a different demographic than just the traditional golf fan. The intent of this, when this golf tournament was built, was built as a celebrity only tournament, and we saw the television ratings through the roof.

Then when we added the element of professional golf, the strategy there was to get the traditional golf media to start covering the event.

Then once we made the decision for this to be a partnership with the LPGA and for them to be kind of in the Tournament of Champions role, at that point in time, we knew then that we would get the coverage and the, if you will, the credibility from you all that are the traditional golf media, which we honestly had never had when it was just a celebrity tournament.

So the idea, as we look out into the future, is to continue to tweak and get better, but really, I think, the LPGA embracing playing music on No. 18 and the atmosphere that we've created on No. 18 and the fun and the excitement, it's bringing people out here, and it's opening the eyes that golf can be cool. I've got to tell you, I think the golf media is a tough job, in particular if Tiger's not in the deal. I mean, you all have a tough sell. You've tried hard to get some of these other players on the PGA TOUR and make them the next star, but nobody's really jumping out there.

So at the end of the day, when you don't have a Tiger, you'd better figure out something different in golf because the same old, same old is just not exciting the younger generation. So that's where we come from, and it makes me so happy to see the LPGA have their eyes wide open to that because without that I think there are issues.

Q. I was hoping each of you might be able to pull a cool scene from this week of interaction between the athletes and the LPGA players. I saw you chilling out at the concert the other night as the big parties are going on, but what are some of the cool things you've seen this week with the players and the interaction there that will kind of stay with you?
MIKE FLASKEY: I think the respect that the celebrities -- because a lot of these celebrities can play. They're good players -- amateur players, obviously. But the respect that they have for the LPGA ladies, it just comes out at every turn.

I played with Justin Verlander today and Danielle Kang, and you're just in awe as how good they are. We jokingly say they're better with a hybrid than we are with wedges, and it's true. I mean, these ladies are amazing.

Larry Fitzgerald yesterday, last night, was just going on and on. He played with Inbee, and just how he appreciates the LPGA because the ladies actually have to dissect the golf course and play it like the golf course was designed to be played versus being overpowered.

So I would say the answer is just respect. There's tremendous respect, and it's cool.

AARON STEWART: Yeah, I'd have to completely agree with that. The respect amongst both the professionals and the professionals of other sports, or the professional actors or entertainers, is really the thing that keeps -- that allows us to get this creativity and get the music going. There's certain players that might want us to turn the music down. That's no problem. So we're happy to do that. We want to accommodate everyone.

All in all, I think it's just the interaction and the ability that they have to kind of compare themselves. You look at a guy like John Smoltz, where he's closed out hundreds of games in his career and applying that to closing out a golf tournament -- coming down the stretch and you're in the lead and how do you do it? What did you do when you were playing, John, that these ladies can take and apply to their careers right now? So that's probably the coolest part for me.

Q. Angela Stanford has been giving us her thoughts as a first timer, which has been a lot of fun. I'm curious from the celebrity standpoint if you've had any comments from first timers who are here about their experience.
MIKE FLASKEY: Absolutely, lots of them. Michael Pena, the actor, is blown away. He had no idea what we had created here. A lot of the celebrities, when they have not played here the first time, they come in thinking a little bit like Tahoe, but this is significantly different because of the professional element. When they're paired alongside an LPGA professional that is playing for 1.2 million aggregate, it's a little more serious. It's a little bit more of a real golf tournament. It's a little bit more not slap and giggle, which Tahoe can be.

They like that, but I think they take a step back at first and have to kind of get used to it. But overall, the new celebrity that's are in the field this year have absolutely been blown away, and the ones like Larry Fitzgerald I mentioned earlier, he didn't play last year. He had a commitment and couldn't play last year, and he came back. So this was his first time playing since the LPGA partnership. Completely blown away.

Because you've got to remember, there are a lot of celebrities that live in Aaron's and my neighborhood that are friends of ours that we play golf with that we would actually like to get out here to play in this tournament, but they refuse to put themselves under the gun on national TV where they've got to hole it out and play golf. They want to go do like a Pebble Beach thing where they can ride on a professional coattail and have par as their friend. That's not what this is about. You as a celebrity have to be willing to put yourself under the gun, and you've got to put yourself out there.

Anyway, that takes a special type person, and it does take away from some big names that may play in a Pebble Beach type event, but we love that part of it. We love the fact that it's a competitive thing. We're golfers, and we want to have fun, but we want to play golf.

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