Once again the best players in the world over 50 years old have descended on the Desert Mountain Club in Scottsdale, Arizona to bring closure to the Champions Tour’s 2015 year. Full disclosure: I’m a homer, I live here. So I have a huge welling in my heart when I think of the rest of the world being able to see our beautiful, six-course club, all of them designed by Jack Nicklaus.
Not only that, I have a soft spot in my heart for the Champions Tour having spent nine years trying to Monday qualify my way to glory. That included 124 Mondays and 8 Q-Schools. Actually, it wasn’t personal glory I was after, it was to demonstrate the efficacy of certain human potential principles (see my About tab). And, it turned out, my surprise discovery of God’s hand in my life: directly beneficial things kept happening to me that I was not trying to produce.
And so, as I look at how the Champions Tour has matured into a highly competitive display of golf at its best, I write about these guys from the perspective of a player who’s been there…almost. Until you see this evolved tour in person, you can’t really appreciate just how good they are. Do they hit is as far as the PGA Tour studs? No. But they all hit it far enough and with a display of the strategic skills required to “get it around.”
We’ll get to all of that, but for today, I’m interested in the behind-the-scenes details of what it has taken to transform a place I know so well into a showcase event worthy of these players.
I got a little lucky. Our main clubhouse at the Cochise/Geronimo courses was closed the day I came up while our agronomy guys took the courses through the overseeding of the Bermuda grass with the winter Rye. So I had a chance to look around. Nobody has set foot on Cochise since July 5th. And here we are in the first week of November with the pro-am in full stride and the tournament beginning tomorrow.
The day I came up, the first of the grandstands were beginning to sprout from the midst of our spreading mesquite trees and Saguaro cactus-studded desert. When I came up yesterday to pick up my media credentials, a small city had arrived.
The ground floor of the Ladies locker room had been converted into a hushed media center with four rows of work stations all wired up with power and internet connections and centered on three HD televisions on the wall. The media staff has the back row with a manager and two guys who, among many other things, write releases, research and host media center interviews with the players. Today its humming as the first wave of writers and photographers has arrived.
The parking lot had been sectioned off by crowd control barriers to make it easier for the players to find their assigned spots. Their name placards were attached to the bars of the barriers and the whole thing looked like a splendid display of orderliness. Until one of the players noticed that his space was one of the handicap spots and no one had thought to take those signs down. Nothing like being labeled an insensitive scofflaw when all you were doing was following directions. A Desert Mountain employee scurried around the barrier and took a wrench to the signs.
The miles long, four-lane, divided Desert Mountain Parkway has been partitioned into north/south single lanes on one side of the median and angled handicap, VIP and member parking on the other. Oh the joys of having a media parking pass that gets me into the close-in converted employees’ lot. Shuttles drop everyone at the entrance gate that opens right onto the expansive driving range festooned by small sponsor tents stretched across the back. On the far end is the big-top volunteer tent. It looks like a giant Renaissance Faire.
So where do the patrons and employees park? The nearby Carefree Airport shuts down at 6 AM and converts into a giant parking lot. At 7 PM all the cars have to be gone and the chickens can come home to roost. You can do that when you’re a private airport and the Tour offers you a budget windfall. I don’t know who thought of that, but it was a stroke of genius. Shut down a perfectly good airport and turn it into a parking lot? That takes an outside-the-box kind of mind.
When I arrived on site on Tuesday there were no patrons. The show doesn’t officially open until today’s pro-am. Both days as I made my way to the clubhouse, there were Tour staff and volunteers clustered in operations conversations about the best way to do this and that. The Tour does a great job of mapping all of that out beforehand — the macro stuff is all pretty obvious — but they have to be very flexible when the crowds hit the rope lines and details need to be handled. The parking lot attendants were trying to figure out how to sort out the pro-am players from the media members whose cars had been mandated to be valet parked — whether they wanted to or not — in the name of cramming everyone into the one lot.
When I came into the media center, the security guard was eagerly opening the door for everyone who arrived. I think he finally thought better of that when he realized how much traffic there was coming in and out. There was a quiet four-person business meeting going on in the empty player interview area. And the breakfast buffet was still going strong.
The 8:30 AM pro-am has been going through a hole-by-hole countdown because Jeff Maggert is in the lead group off the 1st tee and was scheduled to be in the interview room right after. As we pass the 5½ hour mark, Maggert is playing the 17th hole and I have to leave early for a business appointment.
I’ll keep you posted throughout the week.