Back in 1999, the general concept of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship seemed like a fantastic idea.
The tournament was meant to bring a March Madness-type feel to professional golf, while offering fans a unique opportunity to watch the world’s top 64 golfers face off against one another in a match-play format.
Things were certainly looking bright for the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship during its first decade of existence. The event was held at La Costa Resort and Spa in Carlsbad, Calif., for the first two years and moved to the Metropolitan Golf Club in Victoria, Australia, in 2001 before returning to La Costa for the next five years.
Most of the top players in the world attended the Match Play Championship each year, and Tiger Woods won the event three times during a six-year stretch between 2003 and 2008.
But this event took a turn for the worse when it moved to The Golf Club at Dove Mountain in Marana, Arizona, back in 2009.
Since that time, this once-strong and prominent event has grown weaker by the year.
While the decline of the tournament can ultimately be attributed to numerous underlying issues, the key factor in this event’s slow but steady downturn over the past five years has been the venue itself.
The players simply do not like this Jack Nicklaus-designed Dove Mountain golf course.
Dove Mountain ranked 51st out of 52 courses on the PGA Tour in a Golf Digest player’s poll last year, according to Rex Hoggard of GolfChannel.com.
Asked about his first impressions of the golf course back in 2009, two-time WGC-Accenture Match Play champion Geoff Ogilvy responded, via ASAP Sports, by saying:
Do I have to answer that question? It’s an interesting course. It’s obviously going to take a lot of people a while to kind of get used to the greens. They’re very different. They’re slower than we’re normally used to. They’re extremely slow up some of these big hills, but they’re quite fast down the hills because they’re such extreme slopes.
“The greens are a bit tough,” Tiger Woods said of Dove Mountain back in 2009, via ASAP Sports. “They’re a little severe out there. The green speeds are down because if they ever got them up, you couldn’t play.”
“From what I can tell around the greens, it is very severe and will require some interesting shots, bump-and-runs, flops, spinning shots,” Phil Mickelson said after viewing the golf course for the first time in 2009, via ASAP Sports. “It will be difficult to get the ball close to the hole.”
Players will often set their schedules based on golf courses that they enjoy playing and have performed well at in the past.
Needless to say, Dove Mountain has proven to be an epic disaster for Accenture and the PGA Tour on that front.
Another reason why many of the world’s top golfers have decided to skip the Match Play event in recent years is due to a combination of the scheduling date (late February) and volatility of the event.
Between November and late January, many of the world’s top golfers travel to Asia, Australia, Africa and the Middle East chasing appearance-fee checks that often contain seven figures.
Late February through early April is another busy stretch for most of the world’s top golfers as they gear up for the first major of the season.
So, what is the motivation for players who have likely just earned somewhere in the vicinity of $5-8 million in appearance fees over the past three months to hop on their jets and head off to a golf course they don’t like in order to attend a tournament that contains a very volatile format with nothing more than a guaranteed payday of $46,000?
Add in some horrific weather over the past several years, including a full-blown snowstorm in 2013, and there is very little about this event that would entice the world’s top golfers to make a trip to the Arizona desert for the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.
While the tournament has been going downhill for several years now, it appears that it might have finally hit rock bottom in 2014.
Three of the top four players in the world (Woods, Mickelson and Adam Scott) have decided to skip the event.
The attendance at this event has always more closely resembled that of an early-round U.S. Amateur match than a World Golf Championship, but this year, many spectators are nearly giving away their tournament tickets.
Heck, depending upon who actually makes it into this year’s final, some spectators may be selling their Sunday tickets on secondary markets for literally pennies on the dollar.
This is a shocking development for a sporting event that was created with the sole purpose of attracting the top golfers on the face of the planet.
The time has come to stick a fork in this event, which, luckily for the PGA Tour, appears to be precisely what is happening.
Accenture is in the final year of its current sponsorship of the WGC Match Play event, and most golf insiders believe the 2014 event will be Accenture’s last, according to Alex Miceli of Golfweek.
So, as this global consulting giant will in all likelihood head off into the Arizona desert with its tail between its legs on Sunday evening, the PGA Tour will have an opportunity to make over this event with a fresh new title sponsor in 2015.
Early rumors are that Harding Park in San Francisco is being eyed as a potential new site for the tournament, according to Hoggard. San Francisco is of course a larger market than Marana, Arizona, and Harding Park is a classic golf course that was very well received as host of the 2009 Presidents Cup matches.
While the precise future of the WGC Match Play event is still uncertain at this time, one thing is for sure: Anything has got to be better than what we have witnessed over the past five years in Marana, Arizona.