Posted: Fri, 1 Apr 2016 01:30 PM - 8,862 Readers
By: Sean Shapiro
Jason Day hits a shot on No. 12, with Austin’s iconic Pennybacker Bridge in the background, during the championship match at the World Golf Championships Dell Match Play on Sunday March 27, 2016.
Jay Janner / American-Statesman
The PGA Tour couldn’t have scripted a better ending to the inaugural World Golf Championships Dell Match Play at Austin Country Club last weekend.
Jason Day hoisted the pastel blue trophy on the 14th green with the iconic Pennybacker Bridge in the background, while fans on boats and paddleboards floated nearby on Lake Austin.
“What a great picture of Austin. That was about as perfect as an ending and put the city in such a great light for a TV audience,” said Lance Aldridge, executive director of the Austin Sports Commission. “I used to work with the Tour when this event first got started (in 1999), and this is how the event is supposed to be run.”
Over the five-day event, seemingly everything went the way tournament organizers had planned. The list of complaints was minor. There was a parking snafu on Day 1, which was sorted out by Day 2. And a bit of luster was lost on the final day after former Jordan Spieth, the former University of Texas star and then the world’s top-ranked golfer, was ousted in Saturday morning’s round of 16.
“Things worked out really well, not just for a first-year event, but any event on the Tour,” said Jordan Uppleger, the tournament director. “We had a couple things we learned, like you have with any event, but we’ve really found a nice fit here with this event and Austin.”
There were 10,000 tickets sold for this year’s event; ACC officials do not have an official attendance number yet, but the tournament was sold out.
Uppleger was the man behind the scenes who helped the tournament run smoothly. He moved to Central Texas after the tournament was finalized. He oversaw the buildup that started back in January, when groundwork for tents and grandstands started, while he helped organize more than 1,300 volunteers.
It also was important to keep the members of Austin Country Club, who voted to host the tournament, happy. Members were back playing the course on Tuesday.
“Someone told me those tee times were booked solid,” Uppleger said. “We should have everything packed up and moved in out a couple weeks, then we can start focusing on how to make next year even better.”
The 2017 event will be held March 22-26; more information on tickets will be release in the “near future” Uppleger said.
Uppleger said the course layout played out slightly differently than expected with fans. While officials expected galleries to follow certain golfers, the size and frequency of galleries was surprising for the layout of the course. With that in mind, Uppleger said he’d look into adding more concession stands and restrooms at some of the more remote holes.
Austin also received the golfers’ seal of approval. Many of the players explored the city and brought their families. At a typical PGA Tour event, the provided day care center is used by “two or three golfers,” but 27 children were enrolled in the PGA Tour-provided day care, Aldridge said.
While the picturesque location was a positive, stiff winds challenged golfers the first two days.
“It’s good for match play,” Rory McIlroy said. “I think you’d see a lot of guys get frustrated if this was a stroke play tournament.”
The difficulties and nuances on the greens contributed to those frustrations. Even a field filled with the top 64 golfers in the world struggled on the course designed by Pete Dye.
“There’s some Pete Dye courses I’m a big fan of and there are some Pete Dye courses that I’m not,” McIlroy said. “And I think that’s what he tries to do. You’re either in one camp or the other — and I think this course is very much like that.”
With stroke play, the conditions could have driven up overall scores. However, match play’s one-on-one approach added more intrigue to the difficult conditions.
“It was a great match play golf course with regards to being able to go at greens and being able to have drivable par-4s,” Day said. “It made it exciting, not only for us, but for fans as well. I’m looking forward to coming back here and defending the title next year.”