The LPGA might be on its way back to the East Valley. Mike Nichols, vice president of tournament business affairs for the LPGA, confirmed Thursday that talks are ongoing to hold the tour’s annual Valley stop at Encanterra Country Club in Queen Creek next March.
The LPGA might be on its way back to the East Valley.
Mike Nichols, vice president of tournament business affairs for the LPGA, confirmed Thursday that talks are ongoing to hold the tour’s annual Valley stop at Encanterra Country Club in Queen Creek next March.
“I think it would be premature to be exceedingly optimistic but at the same time I have a certain cautious optimism,” Nichols said.
Nichols said the LPGA also is talking to the Portland, Ore.-based Tournament Golf Foundation, which ran the LPGA event at Papago Golf Course in Phoenix last March and at Superstition Mountain Golf and Country Club from 2004 through 2008. But Nichols said negotiations with TGF have “yet to reach a conclusive outcome” and characterized discussions with Encanterra as “productive.”
Michael Fraley, general manager of Encanterra, said his company is engaged in preliminary talks. But a source with knowledge of the negotiations said Encanterra is putting together a financial package to present to the LPGA and that an answer could come within three months.
That timeline would coincide with the LPGA’s desire to announce its 2010 schedule at its Tour Championship Nov. 19-22.
“We’ve had a couple of good talks. They have an understanding of what it takes and the financial commitment,” Nichols said.
The purse for the J Golf Phoenix LPGA International at Papago last March was $1.3 million, but additional monies are needed for operational costs and to televise the event. Tom Maletis, president of the TGF, said last March that a tournament could be run for $3.5 million; that figure, however, would leave little money for charity.
A source said Encanterra will be in good position to get the event if Shea Homes, which has a community property on the resort, agrees to be the title sponsor and funds a sizable portion of the costs. Another possibility: Shea Homes puts up the most money, but several other companies affiliated with it also contribute.
Although the LPGA only has 14 tournaments locked in for the 2010 season, Nichols said the tour would not share in the operating costs.
“We’re not in position to take a risk at one or any of our tournaments,” he said.
The LPGA’s status locally has been in a state of flux for more than a year. The tournament at Papago was secured just seven weeks prior to the event, when Mirassou Winery agreed to be the presenting sponsor.
The TGF had an exclusive negotiating period with the LPGA but it expired two months after the tournament, said TGF executive director Rob Neal.
Neal said talks with the LPGA regarding Papago have been ongoing, “but there’s not the momentum there we’d all like to see. We’re still hoping to put something together but it’s a lot tougher (because of the financial climate) than it used to be.”
Neal said he’s been in contact with officials at Encanterra and there’s a possibility TGF would run the event there just as it did at Papago and Superstition Mountain.
“It may be something that happens with us or without us,” he said.
Although Encanterra is at the far southeast edge of the Valley, both Nichols and Neal said access would not be an issue; fans could get to the course via Ironwood Road off US 60 or from the west on the 202. The property sits on 800 acres so parking would be plentiful, Neal said.
An LPGA event at Encanterra would be a boon for the East Valley. A 2008 Arizona State research study determined that the tournament had a $22 million economic impact for the East Valley during its five years at Superstition Mountain.
“We are aware of the potential economic benefits to the Valley and particularly the East Valley,” Fraley said.