Greg Hansen: Tucson's vision won over Accenture

2013-01-29T00:00:00Z Greg Hansen: Tucson's vision won over AccentureGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
January 29, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Long before Dove Mountain Boulevard extended north beyond the Gallery Golf Club, Tucson developer David Mehl and Accenture front man Gary Beckner stood amid the rocks and cacti near Wild Burro wash.

It was August 2005, midday, and it was really hot.

Tucson hoped to replace its encumbered PGA Tour stop with the glamorous WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, and Mehl, giving his most enterprising sales pitch, asked Beckner to imagine a Ritz-Carlton Hotel and a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course suitable for Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.

"I saw no hotel anywhere," Beckner said Monday, smiling at the memory, as if to suggest he kept one eye on the ground, looking for snakes and scorpions, more than he was trying to imagine a grand hotel.

Eight years ago it took a fertile imagination and a bold vision to picture any Tucson golf property, real or imagined, as a replacement for California's polished LaCosta Resort and Spa. But on Monday morning, Beckner was joined at Dove Mountain by some PGA Tour administrators on Media Day VII, the official launch to Tucson's pro golf season.

Ironically, it was raining at the Golf Club at Dove Mountain. Rainstorms in 2002, 2003 and 2005 (and community apathy) triggered Match Play's move from LaJolla, Calif.

"We did extensive research throughout the United States, looking for the right type of place," Beckner said. "In Tucson we found all the ingredients that would be the perfect host site."

It required a lot of faith to believe that Mehl and the Tucson Conquistadores could attract one of the year's 10 leading golf events globally. I mean, the off-Broadway, 2006 Chrysler Classic of Tucson was a scramble to the finish between Kirk Triplett, Heath Slocum and Jerry Kelly.

We've come so far, so fast.

The Match Play contract with the Conquistadores runs through 2014, and although negotiations beyond that are as confidential as a Bill Belichick game plan, Tucson continues to have three variables that almost no other potential tour host can match:

• A mild February climate.

• No active fear of golf-interrupting rain.

• Proven community support not exhibited in previous Match Play events in Australia and California.

All hasn't gone without some bumps here. Gerald Goodman, a former college football coach at Louisville and Southern Mississippi, is the third executive director of Tucson's Match Play event. The preparation and staging of the unique, front-loaded format isn't for everybody. It can wear a man down.

Much of the ticket-selling suspense spins on Woods' commitment, which is expected sometime in early February.

It's unlikely Mickelson will play here this year, that's a given by now, but otherwise Goodman spends more time happy about who's in than worrying about who's out.

He laughs at the juxtaposition of his days as a PGA Tour tournament director, 16 of them operating the Tampa Bay event.

"I would stand outside of the locker room and introduce myself to many of the players, recruiting them, asking them to play in Tampa," he remembers. "I would wait for them on the driving range, follow them to tournaments in Denver, LaJolla, all over."

This is better. You don't invite anyone. You arrange for Rory McIlroy's arrival and hope he gets to spend a full week at the Ritz. So far, the only prominent names outside the Top 64 in the world golf rankings are Vijay Singh, No. 88, Ryo Ishikawa, No. 83, and Paul Casey, No. 120.

At this week's Waste Management Phoenix Open, just one of the world's top 11 (Brandt Snedeker) is entered.

The specter of Woods returning to Dove Mountain for the sixth time in seven years moves the ticket-buying, TV-viewing needle more than anything in golf.

The timing is especially good this year, multiplied by Woods' victory Monday in the Farmer's Insurance Open. The final ticket-selling push for Match Play VII should be made easier.

How big is Woods' presence? On Monday, CBS pre-empted its afternoon programming, dumping "Let's Make a Deal" and "The Dr. Oz Show" to televise the final seven holes in a rare nonmajor, Monday-afternoon broadcast window.

Ordinarily, a PGA Tour event that spills into Monday is launched just after sunrise, allowing the golfers and the traveling golf ensemble to get out of town ASAP and get on with the next tournament on the schedule.

But Tiger changes everything. Expect him on the first tee at the Golf Club at Dove Mountain about 12:03 p.m., on Feb. 20, cameras rolling.

It can't possibly rain.

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