How The Tucson Conquistadores and David Mehl landed the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship
A behind-the-scenes look at the planning and hosting of the 2009 WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship at Dove Mountain in Tucson.
TUCSON, ARIZONA: Little did David Mehl know what he was in for when John Belton, chairman of the Tucson Conquistadores, and Russ Perlich, the Conquistadores’ long-time representative to the PGA TOUR, approached him with an idea in the spring of 2005.
The Conquistadores, a major Tucson civic organization, was concerned about the Tucson Open, one of the longest running tournaments on the PGA TOUR. It was no longer attracting the best players and attendance was in decline. They sought Mehl’s help. They heard the World Golf Championships Accenture Match Play Championship’s contract with La Costa Resort in California was expiring in 2006 and the event was looking for a new home. Seeking Mehl’s help was a strategically wise move. As CEO of Cottonwood Properties, he was in the midst of developing The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club at Dove Mountain with a signature Jack Nicklaus golf course. He carefully crafted a classic $500 million master-planned resort/residential golf community and placed it in a setting of 6,200 acres in Tucson’s High Sonoran Desert.
Belton approached Mehl for help because he felt Mehl possessed the skill and persistence to successfully undertake a major project.
In order to attract the Accenture Match Play Championship, Belton needed to:
1. Convince the PGA TOUR that Tucson, with its rich history in golf, would be a great new home for the event.
2. Ensure the Jack Nicklaus-designed course could be completed and approved by the TOUR in time for the 2009 event.
3. Work with the TOUR to convince title sponsor Accenture that Tucson could successfully support a world-class event and provide five-star entertainment and accommodations for its guests.
4. Provide a suitable interim host site at Gallery Golf Club at Dove Mountain during the Nicklaus construction process. Oh, yes, there were two additional points. The plan would take about three years to implement and Belton wanted Mehl at the helm. No big deal, right?
Mehl, incredibly, agreed to undertake the challenge. “We struck a partnership,” said Mehl, “to move the 2007 and 2008 Accenture Match Play Championships to the Gallery, located next door to Dove Mountain and move it to The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club in 2009 when the new Nicklaus course would open.
“I wanted to support the community in which I’ve lived for decades and to promote Dove Mountain. The planning process did take three years. The process actually went smoother than you might think considering we had five strong-willed parties, each with their own concerns and determinations to accomplish it. For example, The Ritz-Carlton was most concerned about building a course that their guests and future homeowners and members would enjoy.
“The PGA TOUR was most interested in the spectator experience during the tournament and having a great golf course for the event.
“Jack Nicklaus wanted to design a course that would challenge the best players in the world, accommodate spectators, and provide stunning camera views for the TV audience. He created shortcuts for spectators to walk from the front nine to the back nine. As a result, the course setup allows you to view 6, 9, or 12 holes and ‘loop’ back to the clubhouse.
“Accenture had bigger concerns. Certain benchmarks of progress had to be provided for Accenture and the TOUR to measure our progress,” recounted Mehl. “I wanted everyone’s goals to be accomplished so the Dove Mountain brand would receive accolades right out of the gate.”
To compound the pressure, Mehl had additional responsibilities such as paying a host-site fee, a larger maintenance budget and the loss of two weeks’ revenue while the course was closed for tournament preparations.
“Having a hotel makes the economics work. Without the resort component, I would have to restructure the financial arrangement. It’s always a challenge to measure your ROI [return on investment] in any type of marketing.
“The value of TV exposure and the ‘bragging rights’ of having the best players in the world play our course will attract more guests to The Ritz-Carlton in the short term and help sell real estate in the long term,” Mehl said.
“The purse is the obligation of the TOUR and Accenture.
“The Accenture event is one of 13 tournaments the TOUR owns and operates. They run it from A-to-Z. That includes everything from food, beverage, hospitality venues and spectator amenities. They handle it all.
“Our job is course conditioning and running the clubhouse. The hardest thing in the process was to convince Accenture and the TOUR that we would complete construction of the course, the clubhouse, and the resort on time, and at the quality level they expect/’ said Mehl.
“Art renderings in planning stages go only so far. In order to ease some pressure, they had an ‘option out’ clause in the contract if I didn’t live up to my promises.
“We’re preparing for a possible tough economy in 2010. Last fall was a very stressful time,” recalled Mehl. “Here we were, about to open a luxury residential resort community, about to host the biggest sports event in Southern Arizona ever- and the economy collapses,” he
groused. “Yes, we felt an impact.
“This year ,” continued Mehl, “the TOUR sold about half as many corporate tents at the tournament compared to last year  . But, the TOUR is made up of terrific people. They changed the pricing plans and we sold more tickets this year than last year. However, having great weather and having Tiger Woods make his comeback from knee surgery also helped,” said Mehl.
This tournament has all the earmarks of becoming a major success. The 2010 World Golf Championships Accenture Match Play Championship at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club at Dove Mountain is scheduled for February 15-21,2010 . •
For information phone The Ritz-Carlton at Dove Mountain
at (877) 572-2770 or visit theresidencesdovemountain.com