Every February, Marana becomes the center of the golf world when dozens of the sport’s top players arrive to compete at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.
Rumors that the tournament may be on the verge of leaving has the town scrambling to cope with a future without the exposure and tourism the event draws.
The tournament has been in Marana since 2007. It previously had stints in Carlsbad, Calif., and Victoria, Australia.
Signs that the tournament’s days in Marana are numbered are everywhere. Elite pros Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Adam Scott have announced they will skip the event.
Golfweek.com reported in January that Accenture will drop off as sponsor, leaving the next backer considerable clout in choosing a new location. Sports Illustrated’s Golf Plus featured a roundtable of journalists bashing the Tucson area as an unfit venue for such a prestigious tournament.
The PGA declined to confirm the reports. Spokeswoman Laura Neal said via email it won’t make announcements about the event’s sponsorship or location until after the tournament.
“At this time, neither the PGA Tour nor Accenture has confirmed the report that Accenture is ending their sponsorship or that the Match Play Championship is leaving Tucson,” Neal said.
“We are all placing 100 percent of our energy and focus on putting the best possible event together for 2014. After the event, we will evaluate the entire situation and make announcements relative to the future of our relationship with Accenture as well as the location of the tournament.”
Marana town spokesman Rodney Campbell said the town works under the assumption that the tournament will come back each year, but that things are almost never certain because the tournament’s status is often in flux.
“We rarely hear before the event is held that it’s definitely coming back,” he said. “With Accenture no longer the title sponsor, we don’t know who is going to step in, and that adds a little extra uncertainty.”
Developer David Mehl, who represents the organization, said via email that community support could be key to helping keep the tournament in Marana.
“The community support for this year’s tournament could definitely have an influence on a future sponsor’s desire to stay in Tucson,” he said. “We appreciate the support from the community in the past. The PGA has been very pleased with the tournament at Dove Mountain. We are anxious to see what happens from here.”
Campbell said the town has much to gain with the tournament potentially sticking around. Marana benefits from TV coverage, which serves as an advertisement for the area.
“A lot of the benefits the town derives are hard to put a finger on,” Campbell said. “It’s great worldwide exposure. More than 200 countries watch the tournament and see Marana. When the weather is great, it’s a fantastic ad for us. People see the Ritz Carlton and realize we have such a great resort here in our community, and the Golf Club at Dove Mountain, a beautiful course. People in Michigan might be sitting there in subfreezing weather and snow, maybe thinking that Marana would be a great place to go in the winter or the spring.”
“We could not have bought the worldwide public recognition we have received because of having the event,” Marana Town Manager Gilbert Davidson said, adding that the Marana Regional Airport benefits from the increased private jet traffic.
“There are a lot of benefits given to Marana and this region for having the event here.”
Some Marana businesses see boom times during the tournament. David Hoffman, owner of Li’l Abner’s Steakhouse, 8501 N. Silverbell Road, said the tournament increases his business 20 percent for the month each year.
“Almost all of the golfers come, and they all bring people,” he said. “We get a lot of the people running the tournament. Most of them come in with parties of five or 10. Sometimes there are two or three golfers together.”
Campbell said other courses in the region also get a boost from the exposure, with a “ripple” effect that spreads throughout restaurants and hotels in the area.
“There are benefits from tourism above and beyond the tournament,” he said. “The week of the tour is great, but we want to carry that momentum over to the 51 other weeks of the year, too.”
Campbell said the town does its part to make the region attractive to the PGA by offering security via its police force, traffic engineering and marketing efforts.
“We work with the PGA Tour each year to settle on what we’re willing to provide and what the tour needs to pay for,” he said. “There’s a little back-and-forth. They’re a business that wants to make a profit and provide charitable support throughout the region. We’re also a place that has to watch the bottom line, too. We can’t throw out a bunch of incentives in order to keep the tournament here.”
David Hoffman and his wife, Molly, also are playing the waiting game, hoping their restaurant continues to receive its annual hole-in-one.
David said losing it would “hurt bad.”
“We would be sad for many reasons, seeing that golf tournament leave,” Molly added. “Because of the people we have gotten to know so well throughout the years. I think the whole town would feel sad to see it go somewhere else.”