Why Pro Golf is Good for Tucson

By: Joan Liess

The Conquistadores Classic of Tucson is set to continue Southern Arizona’s tradition.

Tucson Classic

Pro golf was introduced to Tucson on January 19,1945 at El Rio Golf Club. Byron Nelson and Sam Snead each shot an opening round 67, and amateur Babe Zaharias posted a respectable 74. About 3,500 Tucsonans and winter “snowbirds” were there to witness the occasion. Thanks to the Tucson Conquistadores, a PGA TOUR event has been on Tucson’s calendar every year since.

Outside a hefty number of man-hours expended by the Conquistadores and their band of volunteers, Tucson’s public investment to keep PGA TOUR golf on the calendar has been virtually zilch. Yet, the annual return has been as much as $75 million in economic impact and over a $1 million in for local kids’ charities. Unlike some other high-profile professional sports, golf tournaments typically require little or no new construction—the golf course is already there and tournaments seldom require public monies or bonds for roads or other construction projects to accommodate professional golf events.

The financial side of PGA TOUR golf tournaments, including the Champions Tour Conquistadores Classic of Tucson, is logical and transparent. The nonprofit Tucson Conquistadores civic group raises capital for operating and promoting the tournament through partnerships with sponsors, and by selling pro-am and hospitality packages and spectator tickets. The net profit goes directly to Tucson Conquistadores’ youth charities.

A major economic bonus to the Tucson region, thanks to the Conquistadores Classic of Tucson, is the $8 million worth of television exposure in the U.S., Latin America and Canada via NBC’s Golf Channel. VisitTucson’s President & CEO Brent DeRaad thinks Tucson could become an even bigger player on the golf stage with the continued media exposure generated by professional golf. “Arizona is well positioned in the national and international golf travel markets and the Classic of Tucson will continue to help the Tucson region stand out among golf destinations throughout the state,” DeRaad said. Incidentally, the U.S. was the fastest-growing destination for golf tour operators in 2013 according to data released by the International Association of Golf Tour Operators.

As for the benefits to sponsors and advertisers, Dennis Criswell, former vice president of marketing and strategic ventures for the Touchstone Energy Cooperatives said golf was the game that best connected with the company’s audience. “We shared the common goals of making a difference in the

lives of children and building stronger communities,” said Criswell. “The Touchstone Energy Tucson Open (1999-2002) fit our lineup of signature, people-oriented events and venues that demonstrated the alliance’s theme, ‘The Power of Human Connections.'”

While the departed World Golf Championships match play event generated upwards of $75 million in economic impact each of its eight years for the Tucson region – much of it due to the title sponsor’s business-related activities – and netted over a $1 million for Conquistadores’ youth programs, this year’s results are tough to predict. “Right now it’s a dubious figure since we’re absent a title sponsor,” said tournament chairman Joe Brossart. “Our guys have been working overtime to secure support from other sponsors, and sell hospitality and pro-am packages. One way or another, we’ll make sure fans have a great experience and Southern Arizona kids are the real winners.”

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