Pro golf tournament tees off amid talks of move - Tucson News Now

Pro golf tournament tees off amid talks of move

(Source: Tucson News Now) (Source: Tucson News Now)
TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

With precision and poise, 79 professional golfers lined up each putt Friday at the pristine Omni Tucson National Golf Course. 

As the ball dropped into the cup, an applause of approval poured out from the crowd, where the PGA Champions Tour has become a familiar friend.

"It's awesome. It shows that Tucson is a place that these pros want to come play," said Brandt Hazen, the Tucson Conquistadores PGA Tour Liaison.

But it is possible these friends could part ways. Tucson News Now reported talks were underway in November to pack up the spectator tents and tee boxes and head to a more centralized Tucson location at Randolph Golf Complex on East Broadway Boulevard.

If it moves, it would not happen until 2018. Sponsors approached the Rio Nuevo board with the concept, which is still in the early stages of talks.

Professional golf left the midtown golf facility in the 1980s as the community built a number of high-end courses outside the city, which were more attractive to the PGA.

As of Friday, no contract had been finalized to keep the tournament on the northwest side. 

"We do not have a contract with Omni Tucson National at the moment. But we have some meetings set up in the next couple weeks," Hazen explained.

This tournament at Tucson National has been very successful for the Conquistadores at the resort, since the partnership materialized in 2015. Hazen said more than $500,000 is expected to be donated this year to local charities, all thanks to the little, white, bouncing golf ball.

"We're not opposed to having it somewhere else. We do want to renovate Randolph Golf Course and make it the Harding Park of San Francisco. Kind of a jewel here in Tucson, because we think it deserves that," Hazen said. "But the pros have been coming here for decades. They've been walking these fairways since the Tucson Open days, for literally 30 years."

It keeps local fans like Shawn Bethel interested.

"These are the guys I've followed all my life. I identify with the names and faces," he said.

Spectators hope the tournament stays put, as many took shelter in the shade of the resort's upscale restaurants and bars.

"A glass of red wine, some green-colored food because it's St. Patrick's Day," said Jay Kline of Tucson. "What's not to like?"

Kline likes that professional golf still has a home in Tucson. The Champions Tour, playing Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, features experienced players who have graduated from the main PGA Tour. The younger PGA Tour players haven't been back to the Old Pueblo since the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship left in 2014.

"You kind of lump that in with losing [Major League Baseball] Spring Training and some of the other things this town has lost over the years," Kline said with a puzzled look. "You wonder why?"

Wondering why, when the relationship is reportedly good, do you break it up?

"It's a great venue, and it's a great golf course, and a great hotel. A wonderful partnership," Hazen said.

Organizers expect 20,000 spectators each day of the three-day tournament. The Tucson Conquistadores said they have donated more than $35 million to charity over their 40 years in existence. 

In a brochure, Tournament Chairman Shawn Carter said the Tucson Conquistadores have served youth in communities throughout southern Arizona since 1962. Contributions to the Tucson Conquistadores Classic support The First Tee of Tucson, Special Olympics, and hundreds of local youth charities and organizations.

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