April 26, 2006 - Wherever Tiger Woods plays, crowds are sure to follow.
Next February, Woods and 63 of the world's top golfers will travel to Marana to take part in the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play. And large crowds are sure to follow.
But the arrival of the Accenture Match Play has the potential to mean much more to Marana and the surrounding area than a chance to see the stars of the PGA up close. The tournament, an early season highlight on the PGA tour, will make the move to The Gallery Golf Club at Dove Mountain next February from its former home at La Costa Resort and Spa in Carlsbad, Calif.
"I think you're talking about economic impact that will be two, arguably, three times as great as what we saw in San Diego," said Mike Garten, executive director of the Accenture Match Play. "You're going to find the event is going to quickly establish itself amongst the marquee events not only in Tucson but in Arizona."
Match play is one of four tournaments in the World Golf Championships series sanctioned by the International Federation of PGA tours but run by the PGA. The tournament pits the top 64 players based on the World Golf rankings against each other in a head-to-head format with the winners advancing to the following day.
The World Golf Championship will replace the Chrysler Classic - which will not be relocated - as the only PGA event in Southern Arizona.
There were three primary reasons the PGA chose Marana over a short list of six West Coast cities: By replacing the Chrysler Classic, Tucson could offer a one-market environment where the Accenture Match Play had no competition from other tournaments. The mild winters of Tucson - in comparison to the rainy season of San Diego, which sits at sea level and caused drainage problems - fit ideally with the PGA's desire to keep the event as the premier stop on the PGA's West Coast swing. Combine those factors with the fundraising and organizational skills of the Conquistadors and the PGA had a new home for one of its most popular events.
Early estimates around the tour had the economic impact on Tucson being close to $100 million. When asked by the EXPLORER, no officials from the tour, Marana or Cottonwood Properties - home of The Gallery Golf Course - could comment on how they reached that figure.
What everyone agreed on was the beneficial impact the tour will have on the area. And even if that $100 million number was plucked out of the air, the economic impact will be significant with an influx of corporate sponsors from around the world flooding the area.
The new tournament may not attract the huge infusion of numbers as an event like the gem show - which generates about $76 million annually - because of a limited number of tickets available, but it will generate a figure that will noticeably alter the financial landscape in Marana's favor.
"I think the most significant benefit will be the kind of exposure to our community regionally, statewide, nationally and internationally," said Marana Town Manager Mike Reuwsaat.
The tournament is another piece of the two-year plan to revitalize Marana's image.
"We've always been known as Old Marana and the cotton area and so forth and that's an important part of our history," said Reuwsaat. "But it doesn't truly reflect the kind of development and the community we've become."
Those immediately benefiting from the arrival of the tournament will be tourism related industries such as hotels, restaurants and transportation businesses.
The biggest boon to Marana will come over time as the tournament becomes rooted in the community.
"I think the people that have invested in property understand that, besides residence growth, there's going to be commercial growth that's going to benefit because of the kind of exposure and the type of people that are going to be coming here to actually be at the tournament itself," said Reuwsaat.
With the influx of people and money, the tournament could go a long way toward landing Marana its coveted Ritz Carlton and other luxury hotels.
Because of the format, in which a player is eliminated everyday, the Accenture Match Play is the most televised golf event in the world, said Garten, beating out annual golf staples as the U.S. Open and the Masters. It will air on both network (NBC) and cable (The Golf Channel) television and be broadcast to more than 140 countries throughout the world.
As the PGA becomes more global - last year's Accenture Match Play featured the most foreign players in the tournament's eight year history - more people worldwide will be exposed to Marana as a golf destination.
Retaining its role with the PGA will be the Conquistadors, the 192-member, Tucson-based organization. Instead of being contracted through the title sponsor - which in recent years with the Omni Tucson National was Chrysler - the Conquistadors will hold a contract with the PGA, which is contracted through Accenture.
The presence of the Conquistadors gives the PGA a volunteer, fundraising organization that it did not have at La Costa.
The Conquistadors will be in charge of all sales and marketing of the event as well as heading up all of the event's manpower, including its volunteers, which again will fall between 600 and 700 people.
The response to the arrival of Match Play in the two months since its announcement has been overwhelming, said Conquistador Judy McDermott, who once again will serve as the Tournament Director.
"The phone rings off the hook now because people know Tiger is coming," said McDermott. "People want to get on the list to get a ticket, where in the past people were buying the tickets because it was a fun event to come out to but, quite honestly, we've hit the big leagues."
In years past, the Conquistadors have raised upward of $1 million for local youth sport charities through its involvement with the Chrysler Classic. An upgrade in tournaments now has the organization believing it can garner up to $2 million. The biggest benefactor will be the PGA's First Tee Program. The fledgling program, which will begin in June at El Rio Golf Course, is designed to introduce the sport to inner-city youth.
Not making the transition to the Accenture Match Play will be the Conquistador helmet, a longtime icon of the Chrysler Classic. The crown jewel of match play is the Walter Hagen Trophy. The helmet won't disappear completely. It will likely be used in Conquistador sponsored Pro-Ams and corporate golf outings, said McDermott.
In fact, the Accenture Match Play will have a different look than that of the Chrysler Classic. The Gallery won't have the expo tents like the Omni had; instead the only tents will be the 24 to 32 corporate hospitality venues.
The Accenture Match Play will be played on The Gallery's South course until 2009 when it will move to a brand new course yet to be built within Cottonwood Properties. The new course, which will be named Dove Mountain, is expected to begin construction later in the year.
Not much has to be done to get the Gallery's South course in championship shape. The Galley will make its fairways narrower, while growing its rough two to three inches high.
"In the match play format, we're not trying to protect the entire field against one player or one player against the entire field," said Wade Dunagan the project manager for The Gallery. "They are playing against one other individual; if so-and-so shoots 10-under, that's great; so they want to see a lot of birdies and excitement and things that way."
The PGA asked the Gallery to lengthen one hole, No. 6, which will have its tee-box moved back 28 to 35 feet. The Gallery is taking the opportunity to create two new tee boxes on holes No. 4 and 13 and may add a bunker on 15.
The Gallery will pick up the cost of remodeling the course.
"Because most of these are ones that we have decided to do we're taking care of it because we feel it makes it a better golf course for our members," said Dunagan.
Unlike the Chrysler Classic, which drew upward of 140,000 to the Omni over the course of the tournament's four days, tickets to the Accenture Match Play will be harder to come by - despite the fact that Match Play has an extra day of golf.
The PGA and the Conquistadors are still working out the details but the cost of tickets will rise, said McDermott. The cost of corporate packages, however, will stay relatively the same as they were for the Chrysler Classic.
The hardest ticket to land may be the practice rounds on Monday and Tuesday. With the elimination format, the practice rounds and day one will be the only days that all the top players are guaranteed to play.
The format of the event and the desert landscape does not allow the PGA to put 25,000 to 40,000 people on the golf course, as is the case with events such as the U.S. Open. The PGA will cap its ticket sales around 15,000 - give or take 1,000 - for Monday through Friday and split that in half on the weekend.
"You want big galleries but at the same time we're not in the business of basically providing what would be a less than quality experience," said Garten.
The crowds will be bigger than they were at La Costa, where the PGA only offered 7,500 tickets for Monday through Friday and 5,000 for the weekend.
The ability to increase ticket sales is another one of the reasons why the Accenture Match Play made the move to Tucson.
"We were never quite able to capture the audience that we would ideally like to have as part of the event," said Garten.
In San Diego, Match Play found itself competing for the local golf dollar with the Buick Invitational, the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic, the Nissan Open and the Target World Challenge - all of which were located within a two-hour drive from La Costa.
Even with a significant drop in tickets from the Chrysler Classic, parking that many fans will present a problem at The Gallery, where parking lots are few and far between.
Marana Economic Development Director Dick Gear isn't involved with the PGA this go around but was in charge of all the parking at The Gallery four years ago when the Chrysler Classic was split between it and the Omni.
"One of the criticisms was that there's not a lot of parking at The Gallery, so we parked all along that road and you ran buses back and forth," said Gear. "It seemed to work OK; the criticism was correct in that we just don't have large parking lots up there."
Marana is still working with the PGA to determine where to park more than 15,000 fans and workers.
"We will use just about every single ounce of paved land to park some of the VIPs," said Garten, "but that will not accommodate all the people that will be part of the event."
With very little space for vehicles, the solution will be to park at off-site locations and bus fans in. The Omni also used a shuttle system, parking fans as far away as Pima Community College and the Foothills Mall.
The PGA will provide its own security, working with several departments including Marana, Pima County Sheriff's Department and even the FBI, because of the big name players involved in the event.
Despite no longer hosting a tournament, the Omni will still be a part of the Accenture Match Play, selling packages that include room and tickets.
"Tucson as a whole has just gotten so busy for the first quarter," said Chaya Donne, director of sales and marketing for the Omni. "There's such an increase in business for the first quarter of the year, our busy season, that we're confident it will still be a great season for all of us."
February is the county's hospitality industry's biggest month with the gem show the first two weeks of the February and the rodeo the third week. The Chrysler Classic the last four years has coincided with the rodeo but Accenture planners have moved the Match Play to the last week of the month.
Just about every hotel in the area is expecting to benefit from a crowd that will come from all over the world. The PGA will headquarter at the Westin La Paloma, while Accenture will headquarter at the JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort and Spa.
Garten estimates the event will bring in 1,500 corporate hospitality clients a day. Combined with 600-plus volunteers, 500 members of the media, 500 workers and 12,000 ticket buyers and the number of people flocking to the Gallery will be about of 15,000 per day.
Leading the hordes of people will be Tiger Woods as arguably the world's greatest golfer aims for his third career win in the Accenture Match Play. But the real winner may be Marana and the golf community.