By Steve Rivera –
For Tucson golf fans it’s in one era and out the other.
After eight years in Tucson, the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship is out and the PGA TOUR’s Champions Tour is in.
Professional golf, and all its viewing wonder, is alive and kicking in Tucson. Say goodbye to Tiger Woods, Bubba Watson and Rory McIlroy but welcome Fred Couples, Colin Montgomerie and Tom Watson.
“Our goal,” said Judy McDermott, executive director of the Tucson Conquistadores, “has always been to keep professional golf in Tucson.”
And so, it’ll happen. Since 1945, it’s happened. Why would 2015 be any different?
Names of yesteryear – recognizable to be sure – will be in Tucson competing for the $1.7 million purse at the Omni Tucson National Resort. The event will be held March 16-22.
The PGA TOUR says it’s the perfect time of year to be in Tucson, and the tourney should have one of the best fields, as it is the only Champions Tour event in March.
“We’re happy,” McDermott said.
Fans will be able to see a full field of 81 players for three days – Friday, Saturday and Sunday. And then there’s the return of the pro-am, always a fun event for fans.
“The pro-am is like going to fantasy golf camp,” McDermott said. “We haven’t had a pro-am since we had Match Play.”
Champions Tour names roll off like a feel-good 1990s TV sitcom – Couples, Montgomerie, Watson and many others.
Welcome home, gentlemen.
“People are really going to know these guys,” McDermott said. “In Match Play, you may have had the top 64 players (in the world here), but you probably only knew 24 of them.”
It’s a great get for Tucson and the Conquistadores, who will attempt to raise the usual $1 million for local youth sports charities through the Champions Tour. The Conquistadores and pro golf have been partners since 1966, when the organization took over the Tucson Open.
“We’re excited to have the opportunity to partner with the Tucson Conquistadores on this new event,” said Champions Tour President Mike Stevens.
“They’ve had a tremendous history with the PGA TOUR and an outstanding reputation of conducting exceptional events over the years, and we know that their experience and enthusiasm will pay huge dividends,” Stevens said. “Many of the players currently on the Champions Tour played in Tucson during their careers, and they are thrilled to have the opportunity to return.”
Millions of dollars were generated through Match Play, and Tucson and Marana benefited from the TV coverage. The Golf Channel will return to broadcast the event. A title sponsor is still being sought.
“We’re excited to have it here,” said Hank Atha, Pima County’s deputy administrator for economic and community development. “It’s certainly a major contributor to the Tucson economy, and more important, it displays Tucson in a good light when televised.”
McDermott said, “We consider it a win-win. The fans are just ready for this.”
She said the Champions Tour makes sense, fitting in with the demographics of Tucson. There are plenty of seniors in the area, and they know the players from the past.
“It’s going to be a fun event and more casual,” she said. “They will be friendlier because there is no cut.”
Match Play has since moved to the San Francisco area, but it is still without a sponsor. Accenture ended its sponsorship after last year.
“We’ve been working for several years on something like this because we always knew Match Play wouldn’t be here forever,” McDermott said.
“We felt the Champions Tour would be the best route to go. Everything is along the lines of what we’ve been doing … just different.”