The future of the WGC Match Play in Tucson and other related topics

      Here comes the hard part now that the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship has left the new Ritz-Carlton Golf Club at Dove Mountain until next year: Getting the public to play the 7,849-yard green monster created by Jack Nicklaus.
    As previewed by [email protected] the week prior to the tournament, the course has some mighty difficult greens that are both gorgeous (condition-wise) and gargantuan (size-wise). Slip-sliding slopes cut out of Wild Burro Canyon along the edge of the Tortolita Mountains make putts tricky and approach shots down right impossible.
    Give the PGA Tour credit for scaling back on the speed and moving up the tees. Otherwise, the complaints would have been many and the birdies and eagles few.
    Here is a sampling of what the combatants thought, starting with the No. 1 guy in the world who was back in action after an eight-and-a-half-month layoff that followed surgery on his left knee.
   “If they had them to normal tour speed, they would be unplayable,’’ said Tiger Woods of the greens that were measured at a muni-like 9.5 on the Stimpmeter. “If you have any kind of wind on them you really couldn’t play.
     “And the only way you can play this is to have the greens slow – and they are. They’re running slower than I think I’ve ever played a PGA Tour event on.’’
    David Love III, always the politician, had this succinct answer when asked his opinion: “There’s 18 of them.’’
     Or how about Camilo Villegas? “I probably don’t want to compare this with any other golf course,’’ said Villegas. “I got to say it’s unique. It’s different. The greens are very severe.’’
     Jim Furyk, who spent a lot of time in Tucson as a former Arizona Wildcat, had this assessment: “The grees are so convoluted and undulating they resemble unfurled flags. They’re everybody’s problem.’’
    The most astute comments, however, might have come from the WGC-Accenture Match Play champion, Geoff Ogilvy, whose first response was: “Do I have to answer that question?”
    But asked how they compared to Augusta National, another golf course that features diabolical putting surfaces, Ogilvy let it flow.
    “The greens at Augusta look like they’re supposed to – they look right. Most of them are built on the hill that they’re on, they’re natural looking slopes, and it doesn’t look like they moved much dirt.
    “These ones looked contrived. These ones have a few little steep things and such. . . . I don’t mind big slopes. They just don’t look as natural as Oakmont or St. Andrews or Augusta, like the truly natural slopey ones.’’
    You can judge for yourself if you’ve got $225 plus tax, which is the green fee at The Ritz until the resort opens this fall. Or you can wait until the resort opens and book the Fariways and Greens package at $529 per night, which gives you a one-night stay in a deluxe guest room, two rounds of golf, a required forecaddie, and breakfast for two. To reach the golf shop, call (520) 572-3500 or visit
    Will the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship stay in the Old Pueblo or find greener pastures somewhere else in the future? Or, to spin it another way, will the tournament stay beyond next year, the final year of the two-year contract at The Ritz?
   About 13,000 fans turned out last Wednesday to see the opening round, and that number “ballooned’’ to 15,000 on Thursday. But those numbers were down significantly on Friday after Tim Clark sent Tiger packing in Round 2, and they dwindled further on the weekend, which was expected since ticket opportunities were reduced due to the match-play format.
   In a way, the crowds mimicked the media numbers, which were major championship-like at the first part of the week. According to a PGA Tour source, 525 credentials were issued compared to 379 credentials a year ago. That’s more reporters than attended the PGA Championship last August.
   But of that rather large number of reporters for a WGC event, 35 percent were gone with the Woods by Friday. And many more broke camp before Sunday.
    As far as fan participation, the layout is so disjointed it doesn’t look a thing like the old days of the Tucson Open at Tucson National. It’s an easy access, as buses take fans in and out from parking lots about 15 minutes away, but there’s no excitement or “vibe.’’
    Still the WGC-Accenture Match Play will be contested at least one more time at The Ritz in an earlier time slot — Feb. 17-21. That’s one week PRIOR to the FBR (fill in new name here) Open in Scottsdale, which is set for Feb. 25-28 – the last stop of the West Coast Swing in 2010. That shuffle was created by TV considerations over the Super Bowl and the Winter Olympics.
     More than one fan was overheard in the crowd crowing about how Tucson had Tiger and Scottsdale “doesn’t ever get him to play at the TPC.’’ Woods was such a big deal at The Ritz that Tiger got his own shelf in the pro shop, with a Nike sign pointing out which shirts, pants and hats – all in stock — its superstar would be wearing during tournament week with one big exception – the red “Carmine Dri-Fit Polo’’ reserved for Sunday that is not for sale.
   The best moment of the week might have been Phil Mickelson’s reaction to the over 100 media that were waiting for Tiger on the range Tuesday morning around 7 a.m. Lefty just happened to beat Tiger out of bed that day, and when he viewed the media horde in dawn’s dreary light he sputtered, “Oh, fudge,’’ or something like that.
    Australia’s Ogilvy vs. Paul Casey of England was not exactly what Johnny Miller and NBC had been banking on to boost golf’s sagging television ratings. But it did play nicely on a local level, as both Ogilvy and Casey live in Scottsdale, which brought of few of their fellow members at Whisper Rock Golf Club down to see them on Sunday.
    Actually it’s not that surprising that it turned out to be a foreign finale, as there were only 17 Americans in the 64-player field to start with. That’s the fewest Americans in the top 64 (25 percent) of the world since the same number played in the event during its first year of 1999.
    Just a thought, but Ogilvy needs to smile and laugh a little more, and Casey also is way too serious. But give Ogilvy credit, at least he plays in the FBR (fill in new name here) Open every year, while Casey sucks up the appearance money in Dubai.
    The Ritz’s new tournament course was billed as a better course to view the players’ shots, especially the putting. Not being able to get close enough to see what was going on had been the chief criticism the past two years when the tournament was played on the South Course at The Gallery at Dove Mountain.
    But an informal tour “outside of the ropes’’ by [email protected], who actually had an “inside the ropes’’ credential, revealed that The Ritz still is no TPC Scottsdale, where fans attend by the hundreds of thousands.
   It was tough to get close enough to see tee shots due to the large numbers that followed Woods, so the next-best viewing area was about 200 yards off the tee (if you could pick up the ball). And while the holes going down the mountain and up the mountain offered vantage points to view putts, there were still about three to four holes on each nine – the middle holes of the round that were built on flatter ground – where the viewing was still poor.
     Not surprisingly, “Mr. Camouflage,’’ alias Boo Weekley, got off the quip of the week during an interview on XTRA Sports 910. Asked about his hunting prowess by Arizona Republic columnist Dan Bickley, Boo told Bickley that his 7-year-old son, Thomas, had recently shot his first deer. When Bickley responsded by saying that was quite a feat, Boo countered with: “We start ’em early around here just in case we have another Civil War or somethin’.’’ Leave it to Boo!
Bill Huffman has covered golf in Arizona for over 20 years for the Arizona Republic and East Valley Tribune as well as writing the book Arizona’s Greatest Golf Courses. He co-hosts Backspin the Golf Show on XTRA Sports 910 AM each Wednesday (6-7pm) and Saturday (9-11am).  To reach Bill directly please email him at [email protected] or call 480-540-1780.