TPC Taxpayer-Funded Improvements

This appeared in the Arizona Republic sports section today, but the print version didn’t mention the legal obstacles. This is the version from AZCentral:


Renovation plans follow huge success

By John Davis | Special for azcentral sports

Based on last week’s record-setting attendance figures, the Waste Management Phoenix Open remains wildly popular, and officials hope to strengthen its future as a PGA Tour event on two major fronts in 2014.

A proposal for a $15 million renovation would give an updated look to the TPC Scottsdale Stadium Course and clubhouse, and the host Thunderbirds are negotiating with Waste Management to secure title sponsorship beyond the 2015 event.

There was much to celebrate last week as the event set attendance records on three days and established a new weekly mark of 563,008 fans, bolstering its status as the best-attended golf tournament in the world.

As a result, the tourney was hopeful of raising about $7 million for local charities this year after reaching $6.2 million in 2013. Sunday’s finish came down to the last hole, with Kevin Stadler winning by 1 shot over Bubba Watson and Graham DeLaet.

“It was a phenomenal week,” tournament Chairman Tom King said. “We had great weather, record attendance, concessions that were up 30 percent, record ticket sales, and the golf was great. We really couldn’t ask for anything better.”

A major initiative this year, King said, was “improving the fan experience, and we took steps to do that with the skyboxes as well as general-admission seating.”

Next year the players will notice significant changes if the Scottsdale City Council votes at its meeting Tuesday night to approve a major renovation project.

  • Included in the project:
  • Resurfacing all greens and building three new greens (Nos. 2, 3 and 4) with slightly different locations.
  • Restructuring tee complexes.
  • Revamping bunkers, strategically adding and removing some, expanding others and filling them with new, whiter sand.
  • Replacing or enhancing cart paths.
  • Updating the irrigation system.
  • Remodeling the clubhouse.
  • Eight holes would be lengthened and three would be shortened, with the net result being a course that plays at 7,294 yards, about 80 yards longer than the current layout.

“It won’t be dramatically different in the way that it plays, and that was never a desire,” course General Manager Brad Williams said. “There will be subtle changes that affect strategy, and that is really a necessity in keeping up with technology. Some of the bunkers we have now, for example, are not even in play anymore with the distance that tour pros hit a golf ball.”

Probably the most noticeable changes will be at the par-5 13th and par-4 18th holes.

No. 13, which many fans remember as the “Tiger rock” hole, has plenty of history with its fairway split by a “desert island” in the middle. With the renovation, the left side would be eliminated, leaving a smaller fairway target on the right side.

Technology has taken the teeth out of the finishing hole as tour pros are able to blast drives over the end of a lake running down the left side. Plans call for dense desert to be placed in that area, which would prompt golfers to take a different target line. Also, the tee would be moved back and bunkers along the right side would be extended and grassy mounds would be added, giving them a “church pews” look like the famed bunkers at Oakmont Country Club near Pittsburgh.

Those changes should add more dramatics to the course’s risk-reward four-hole finishing stretch.

“The last thing we want to do is change the excitement that the course creates,” Williams said. “We still want players making birdies because that adds excitement, but tour pros also want to be challenged and we need to provide that, too.”

Tom Weiskopf, who partnered with Jay Morrish in creating the original layout and has made several “tweaks” to the course that opened in 1987, heads up the renovation project.

Clubhouse remodeling calls for a new locker room, club room and covered patio, and remodeling of the golf shop and lobby.

Work on the course would start in mid-March, it would close April 1 and the project would be completed in November.

But the proposal still needs final approval and is not without opposition.

A loose-knit group of Scottsdale residents concerned about municipal spending is opposed and has threatened possible legal action against the city if the plan is approved. Under the proposal, the PGA Tour would increase its fees paid to the course by $4 million over the next 20 years and extend its contract with the tournament by six years through 2022.

Mayor Jim Lane is firmly in favor of the proposal, contending that tax revenue generated for the city and marketing value of the tournament far outweigh the costs. He says the $15 million for renovation would not come from taxpayers but from its hotel bed tax and the PGA Tour.

The city has paid nearly $26 million to keep the course running since it opened. The Phoenix Open contributes an estimated $4.5 million annually in sales taxes to Scottsdale, and an ASU study has placed economic impact of the event at about $90 million per year. The Thunderbirds have raised $69 million for local charities, not counting the just-completed event, since it moved to TPC Scottsdale.

Also on their agenda is negotiating a new contract with Waste Management, a Houston-based company that is North America’s largest environmental-solutions provider and residential recycler. It took over as title sponsor in 2010 with a six-year contract. Details were not disclosed, but annual sponsorship fees for regular tour events reportedly run about $7 million per year.

“We have already begun talks with Waste Management and the PGA Tour,” King said. “We couldn’t be happier with them as our title sponsor, and I think they feel the same way about us.

“What we have done in taking this tournament from the greatest to the greenest show on grass has definitely helped them in marketing their brand, and we are looking forward to negotiating a contract extension.”

In December, the tour honored the event with four awards for “Best Title Sponsor Integration,” “Best Special Event,” “Best Promotional Idea” and “Most Engaged Community.”

“Waste Management has enjoyed our partnership with the Phoenix Open, the Thunderbirds and the PGA Tour, and see it as a great fit for our organization,” chief sales and marketing officer Dave Aardsma said in an email statement. “We have initiated talks with them and we are looking forward to positive discussions about the future of the Phoenix Open.”

Editor’s note: There is no “threat” of “possible” legal action. The complaint has been filed to stop taxpayer funding of these improvements, which under the previous version of the lease were the responsibility of the TPC/PGA. This transfer of cost and risk to the taxpayers is a subsidy to a very wealthy private business, and is illegal under both the state constitution and the Scottsdale City Charter. Case number CV2013-014458.


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