Champion’s Tour Comes Back to the Mountain

Charles Schwab Cup to be Contested in 2012, 2014 and 2016 at Cochise Course

Huff’s Stuff Arizona Golf Blog – Arizona Golf Authority

The cast of characters will be slightly different than those who once played in The Tradition, but The Champions Tour is returning to Scottsdale and Desert Mountain Golf Club in 2012 — as well as 2014 and 2016. The new event is the prestigious Charles Schwab Cup, the 50-and-over circuit’s version of the PGA Tour’s season-ending Tour Championship.

The announcement came down from PGA Tour headquarters in Ponte Vedra, Fla., on Thursday after newspapers in Miami and San Francisco broke the story. Apparently it was a little too soon for all the details to be worked out, like where the Charles Schwab Cup will be played after 2012.

“The Champions Tour has a lot of history at Desert Mountain and we want to continue making history by bringing one of our premier tournaments to this quality venue,’’ said Champions Tour president Mike Stevens in the release. “Our players are enthusiastic to return.’’

Outside of that statement, as well as other obligatory comments from Desert Mountain president Bob Jones and architect Jack Nicklaus, who designed all six of the club’s highly private courses, the Tour’s release lacked a lot of details except to say the event will be held Oct. 29-Nov. 5 on the Cochise Course.

But thanks to Jones, who along with several of his current staff oversaw many of those Traditions that were held there from 1989 to 2001, he did fill in a lot of the Tour’s missing links.

“It’s a three-tournament agreement where we will host in 2012, ’14 and ’16,’’ Jones said of the deal that had been in the making since Desert Mountain’s members took over ownership of the club back in January.

“I can’t tell you for sure who will be the host (in 2013 or 2015), but I think it’s probably going to be either San Francisco or Sonoma (Calif.), or maybe both.’’

That would make sense, as the Charles Schwab Cup will be played in three weeks at the TPC Harding Park Golf Course in San Francisco for a second straight year. It had been played in Sonoma from 2003-2009.

The tournament boasts the biggest payout for the seniors of the year, with a $2.5 million purse as well as a $1 million annuity to the champion from Charles Schwab. The field is limited to the top 30 money winners each year.

Chances are none of those players who will qualify for the Charles Schwab Cup in the future ever played in The Tradition at Desert Mountain. But if they asked any of the guys who did, like Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Lee Trevino, Raymond Floyd, Tom Watson, Chi Chi Rodriguez, Miller Barber, Billy Casper or Fuzzy Zoeller (to name a few), they would have told them The Tradition was a heck of a golf party. Seriously, most of those guys from yesteryear talked about it like it was the best tournament ever on a track they voted “Best Maintained Golf Course’’ on Tour every year. And a lot us who attended The Tradition, or for that matter, covered the action, would concur.

Jones said the new event at Desert Mountain is to be a joint effort between the Champions Tour, HNS Sports (tournament consulting), and the staff and membership at his club. HNS puts on about 14 tournaments worldwide with the biggest being The Memorial. For the record, the “N’’ in HNS stands for Nicklaus, as in Steve Nicklaus, son of Jack.

“I think we’re in great hands, and we feel blessed to have such an experienced team of our own to run it along with the Tour and HNS Sports,’’ Jones said. “I think having the Champions Tour back here at Desert Mountain will be a great thing for us as well as Scottsdale and Arizona in general.’’

It was a sad day, indeed, when the Over The Hill Gang rode out of the Arizona desert back in 2002 after a title sponsor could no longer be secured for The Tradition, a Champions Tour “major’’ that had been founded by Lyle Anderson, the original developer at Desert Mountain. That last Tradition, by the way, had been held at Superstition Mountain Golf and Country Club, another Anderson property that had just sprung up in the East Valley at the time.

It was somewhat of an inglorious ending for a tournament that had produced champions like Nicklaus, Trevino, Floyd, Tom Kite, Tom Shaw and Jim Thorpe (to name a few). Nicklaus, who built the Cochise Course along with the other five — Apache, Chiricahau, Geronimo, Outlaw and Renegade — won the tournament a record four times (1990-91 and 1995-96), with his very first Tradition “W’’ coming in his then-Senior Tour debut.

Jones said that the members are hoping that the tournament will “put the spotlight’’ back on Desert Mountain, like it did somewhat when Anderson was at the controls. And Jones conceded that he hopes all that attention will help ease some of the financial challenges the club has faced in recent times, much like Anderson used The Tradition as a vehicle to market his multi-million-homes and pricey memberships.

“First of all, I have nothing but respect for what Lyle Anderson and (former general manager) Dick Hyland did here during their days at Desert Mountain,’’ Jones said of the former hierarchy. “But this is now the members’ time to shine, as they have really stepped up and taken control and not let happen what happened at other (high-end golf communities) like Reynolds Plantation and Sea Island (that went broke).

“So it’s a new day at Desert Mountain and we’re approaching our future in the ‘go’ mode with positive things like this (tournament). I would also say (the tournament) is more a part of our re-branding of Desert Mountain as a private club and a community (than a marketing strategy). It’s a forward-thinking brand that includes Scottsdale and Arizona, to bring all of us back into the national and world arena through the game of golf.’’

Of the almost 2,000 homes on Desert Mountain, about 10 percent are up for sale, a percentage that is low for a lot of Valley communities but still a little staggering when it comes to multimillion-dollar homes. And it’s no secret that memberships have fallen from a high of $325,000 to the current price of $140,000.

“The good news is we’ve had a tremendous amount of uptick in property and membership sales this year,’’ Jones said. “ All in all, it’s quite encouraging.’’

There is another reason for bringing the Champions Tour back to “the Mountain,’’ as the members like to call it, and it just might be the best of all, Jones noted. Nicklaus is returning in December to start working on a new master plan for the club’s six courses as the members get ready to celebrate Desert Mountain’s 25th anniversary in 2012.

“For us, bringing another great tournament like the Charles Schwab Cup here, and with Jack coming back to Desert Mountain, as well as the members now in control of their own destiny, it’s all part of our start to the next 25 years,’’ Jones said with obvious pride.

“So these are some exciting times for all of us.’’

With the return of the Champions Tour to the scene of perhaps its greatest glory, I couldn’t agree with him more.

Click on Huff’s Stuff Arizona Golf Blog for Bill Huffman’s complete archive at the Arizona Golf Authority.

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