Greg Hansen: A lot is riding on where event is played next year

2012-02-25T00:00:00Z 2012-02-25T06:53:16Z Greg Hansen: A lot is riding on where event is played next yearGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
February 25, 2012 12:00 am  • 

If you think this is a good week for Sang-moon Bae or Peter Hanson, both of whom have already banked $270,000 at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, consider the Ritz-Carlton hotel people.

They are sitting in advertising paradise.

The Ritz is not paying a cent for more than 30 hours of live NBC and Golf Channel programming, and yet scores of people sitting on sofas in South Dakota - and hundreds on barstools in New York and Chicago - are looking at the vivid blue-green Dove Mountain winter landscape thinking "I'VE GOTTA GO THERE!"

Some guy at the Ritz's corporate headquarters in Chevy Chase, Md., has surely impressed management by figuring out how much free advertising Ritz-Carlton Hotels are getting this week. Let's say, $10 million. Maybe double.

TV ratings for Thursday's action were 55 percent higher than a similar day last year. An estimated 1.2 people watched. That's a lot of eyeballs.

Not only that, the Ritz-Carlton is getting roughly $1 million for renting its Dove Mountain facilities to the WGC people. In a business sense, the Conquistadores talk in terms of respect for those at the Ritz, who they view as tough negotiators.

What did you expect? Ritz-Carlton didn't build 77 resorts globally, including 15 with world-class golf courses, by being dummies.

But now, for the first time in six Dove Mountain years, the Conquistadores and the PGA Tour and WGC people have leverage on the Ritz. When the PGA Tour approved plans to hold the 2013 and 2014 Match Play events in Tucson, they did not specify a location.

It's conceivable that next year's tournament will move to the Omni Tucson National, a much shorter, more traditional and more convenient - and less sexy - location that played host to the old Tucson Open countless times between 1965 and 2005.

There will be significant pushback. Accenture, which is paying about $7 million per year to be the title sponsor, wants to stay at the Ritz-Carlton. Accenture has $14 million of capital with which to lobby.

The Conquistadores believe that it will take about $600,000 to make Tucson National tour-worthy again - lengthening a few holes would be essential - and they think it's possible that attendance over five days will increase significantly and fan convenience will improve.

That would mean the payout to local charities that benefit from the Match Play event could soar to as much as $2 million per year. Last year, the Conquistadores raised about $1.3 million in charity money. They've already met that figure this year and could hit $1.5 million.

The variables among all of these heavyweights are fascinating.

After four years at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Dove Mountain, the players seem to have adjusted and accepted the unique desert layout and its quirks. (OK, maybe Tiger Woods would again vote to have the greens blown up, as he did in 2009, when the Ritz spent more than $100,000 to have them modified and made less tricky.)

"I've always enjoyed this tournament and wondered why I haven't played well at all," world No. 3 Lee Westwood said Friday. "And actually when I have been at home and watching it on TV, I thought how good the course looks."

No kidding. From the overhead Snoopy Two MetLife blimp, it looks somewhat exotic. The Ritz people love that part of it. The Accenture faction and their 500 guests enjoy their digs; the Ritz-Carlton and its amenities are matchless in this corner of the map.

But parking at Dove Mountain is challenging. On Wednesday, when attendance rose an estimated 32 percent over last year's first day of play - Conquistadores believe a record 18,000 people were on the course - a monumental traffic jam clogged not only Dove Mountain Boulevard but also west Tangerine Road for about two hours.

To fix that goof, and avoid a rerun, the Conquistadores and the Marana Police Department held meetings at 1 p.m., 4 p.m., and 7 p.m., on Wednesday, and again at 5 a.m. Thursday.

"Our problem was essentially two or three people directing cars the wrong way in the main public lot," said Rocco Bene, the tournament chairman of the Conquistadores. "We got that problem fixed."

There's no way to tell how much damage Wednesday's parking scramble did in a public-relations sense. Gerald Goodman, the tournament's executive director, said the record attendance, and the parking system used for the first time this year, fell victim to a perfect storm at exactly the time thousands of spectators arrived to watch Tiger Woods' midmorning tee time.

"I got up at 3 in the morning," he said. "Nobody's sleeping on this."

In the long term, Tucson's days on the WGC calendar seem limited. Tucson's demographic is more suited to play host to a Champions Tour event - hello, Fred Couples - and the Conquistadores are intrigued by the idea of holding a lucrative two-day Pro-Am, which is a staple at Champions Tour events.

Their goal is to raise more money for charities and not necessarily be a player on the global stage.

But that's a story for another day. Between now and time a decision is made on the course for the 2013-14 Match Play events, the Conquistadores and the PGA Tour have got to keep the Ritz, their Accenture sponsors and the good people of Marana smiling.

That might be more tricky than hitting a golf ball from beneath a jumping cholla.

Match of the Day

No. 4 Matt Kuchar vs. No. 6 Hunter Mahan, 10:20 a.m.

• Neither is considered an elite player in the Tiger-Phil-Rory category, but they are two of the 10 leading golfers in America and one will advance to the final group of four.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Leaders

All times in Eastern Standard Time








Follow the Arizona Daily Star

Deals, offers & events

View more...

More About Us

Chef Wendy Gauthier is the chef owner of Chef Chic.