Tucson Lifestyle March 2016 : Page 60

A stroke of luck Tucson is still on course as the perfect place to watch golfing greats in action. Here is what spectators can expect at this year’s Tucson Conquistadores Classic. by owen rose W hen Match Play left Southern Arizona a few years ago, some Tucsonans may have become grief-stricken at the thought of no more Phil and Tiger and all the top PGA players duking it out in a sudden-death battle in Marana. These folks can come out of mourning, safe in the knowledge that Tucson can hold its head high — we still have a top-notch golf tournament here in the form of the Tucson Conquistadores Classic, which takes place at the Omni Tucson National Resort from March 14 to 20. “We were lucky to have Match Play here for as long as we did,” says Judy McDermott, executive director of the Tucson Conquistadores. “It was a great event, but luckily, everything worked out and we haven’t missed a beat.” In fact, there are plenty of reasons to think that losing Match Play may actually be a plus for Tucson. This year’s tournament is part of the PGA Champions Tour, which boasts play-ers over 50 years of age. But don’t think they let just any older golfer on the tour. It’s not that easy to become eligible because the players have to meet seven different criteria based on a formula that golf analyst Bobby Clampett called “the most compli-cated system known to man.” “It would take a whole article just to explain eligibility,” says McDermott. Some of it boils down to who earned the most money during his career along with other factors. All of this means you will see plen-ty of recognizable faces on the links. “We had a great field of players last year, but I think we’re going to have an even better one this time,” she adds. “The word has gotten out to all the players about what a great event we ran.” Fans can expect to see the likes of Tom Watson, Tom Kite and Tom Lehman along-side Bernhard Langer, Fred Couples, Davis Love III, Mark O’Meara, Jesper Parnevik, Colin Montgomerie, Nick Price and Corey Pavin, and many others. Check on Friday of tournament week to see which players will be in attendance. Last year Fred Couples told Billy Ray Brown of the Golf Channel, “This is pretty phenomenal. We have huge galleries and this is really what the Champions Tour needs. If we are going to get new events, we want to see people out here, and we The 81 players in This year’s field will be aT Their most relaxed , seeing ThaT They’ve already had great careers . TucsonLifestyle.com 60 TUCSON LIFESTYLE | march 2016

A Stroke Of Luck

Owen Rose

Tucson is still on course as the perfect place to watch golfing greats in action. Here is what spectators can expect at this year’s Tucson Conquistadores Classic.

When Match Play left Southern Arizona a few years ago, some Tucsonans may have become griefstricken at the thought of no more Phil and Tiger and all the top PGA players duking it out in a sudden-death battle in Marana. These folks can come out of mourning, safe in the knowledge that Tucson can hold its head high — we still have a topnotch golf tournament here in the form of the Tucson Conquistadores Classic, which takes place at the Omni Tucson National Resort from March 14 to 20.

“We were lucky to have Match Play here for as long as we did,” says Judy McDermott, executive director of the Tucson Conquistadores. “It was a great event, but luckily, everything worked out and we haven’t missed a beat.”

In fact, there are plenty of reasons to think that losing Match Play may actually be a plus for Tucson.

This year’s tournament is part of the PGA Champions Tour, which boasts players over 50 years of age. But don’t think they let just any older golfer on the tour. It’s not that easy to become eligible because the players have to meet seven different criteria based on a formula that golf analyst Bobby Clampett called “the most complicated system known to man.”
“It would take a whole article just to explain eligibility,” says McDermott. Some of it boils down to who earned the most money during his career along with other factors. All of this means you will see plenty of recognizable faces on the links. “We had a great field of players last year, but I think we’re going to have an even better one this time,” she adds. “The word has gotten out to all the players about what a great event we ran.”

Fans can expect to see the likes of Tom Watson, Tom Kite and Tom Lehman alongside Bernhard Langer, Fred Couples, Davis Love III, Mark O’Meara, Jesper Parnevik, Colin Montgomerie, Nick Price and Corey Pavin, and many others. Check on Friday of tournament week to see which players will be in attendance.

Last year Fred Couples told Billy Ray Brown of the Golf Channel, “This is pretty phenomenal. We have huge galleries and this is really what the Champions Tour needs. If we are going to get new events, we want to see people out here, and we have that here in Tucson. It’s a great spot.”

The 81 players in this year’s field will be at their most relaxed, seeing that they’ve already had great careers. The pressure is off, so now they can just come out and have fun.

But of course part of what brings out these top golfers is the $1.7 million purse, with $255,000 for the winner.

The tournament has switched from the sudden-death nature of Match Play to a no-cut format, and that means that everyone plays all three days, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. “We’re excited to have a fullfledged stroke play tournament,” says McDermott. “Nobody’s going home.” Unlike in Match Play, fans will be able to count on their favorite players still being on the course on Sunday.

Many Tucsonans also will be happy about the move back to the “fan friendly” Omni Tucson National Resort. “It’s more like a Midwestern-style golf course, and easy to walk.”

An important fundraising part of the event is the Pro-Am tournament that takes place on Wednesday and Thursday of tournament week. “Four every-day amateurs play with one pro. Each amateur gets a caddie with a bib with their name on it, which the players get to keep. The cost is not cheap, but this year there will be an added incentive — someone will win a 2016 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 just by playing the Pro-Am. It’s pretty good odds. At the most we’ll have 600 people in the Pro-Am.”

They do a blind draw at the Pro-Am Party on Tuesday night to select the pro with which the amateurs will be matched. Last year 47 of the tournament players came to the party. You might bump into Tom Watson standing in the shrimp line.

Although spending $3,500 and possibly four-putting in front of a famous golfer may sound like a high price to pay, amateur participants can rest assured their money was not spent in vain since the dollars go back to the kids.

The Tucson Conquistadores have given $29 million to local charities over the years, but the charity closest to their hearts is the First Tee of Tucson, whose mission statement is to “promote character development and life-enhancing values through the game of golf.”

“That’s the only charity we run,” says McDermott. “We’re introducing a ton of kids to the game. We’re all about making the game affordable for kids. What’s nice about golf is that you can play with anybody. You aren’t waiting to be picked for a team. Everybody is treated the same, no matter how good you are.”

The Conquistadores also have helped countless other local causes, including The Boys & Girls Clubs, the YMCA, the Pima County Special Olympics, and sports programs at schools throughout the area.

“It’s not just about putting on a great event,” McDermott says. “We watch what we spend, because the less we spend, the more we can give to kids.”

Another reason to celebrate the Tucson Conquistadores Classic is the return of the most unique trophy in professional golf.

“The helmet is back, which is really cool,” say McDermott. Marco Dawson, winner of last year’s Classic, was the first champion to wear this replica of a conquistador’s helmet since 2006, as Match Play declined to use the iconic headgear.

People who can’t make it to the tournament will be able to catch the action on the flat screen. The tournament will be shown on the Golf Channel on Friday, Saturday and Sunday for two hours each day. It will be rebroadcast six times, internationally as well. “It’s great exposure for Southern Arizona.” Although the event still doesn’t have a title sponsor, the PGA tour is helping pay the bills. “They know that this community really supports the tournament. Our local sales are good. We’re just missing the title sponsor piece, but we’re working on it.”

So don’t despair because two particular golfers won’t be playing in Tucson this year. “Tiger and Mickelson will be 50 some day, so we’ll see them again,” adds McDermott.TL

For a listing of local golf courses, go to www.tucsonlifestyle.com.

The 81 players in This year’s field will be aT Their most relaxed, seeing ThaT They’ve already had great careers.

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT:

Photos from last year’s tournament — tee marker on the first hole; Ian Woosnam and Bernhard Langer walk to the 9th tee; Fred Couples on the 12th hole; the iconic Conquistadore’s trophy; Tom Watson tees off on the first hole.

LEFT:
Jesper Parnevik plays from the 10th tee; RIGHT Marco Dawson poses with the tournament trophy.

Read the full article at http://www.mydigitalpublication.com/article/A+Stroke+Of+Luck/2412517/291200/article.html.

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