Every February since 2007, the biggest names in the world of golf have descended on the Town of Marana for the World Golf Championships — Accenture Match Play.
Along with the 64 best golfers on the planet come media from across the globe, all with the name Marana spilling from their mouths innumerable times during the weeklong tournament.
“You couldn’t buy that kind of advertising,” Marana Mayor Ed Honea said.
Now, all that free advertising and exposure for the town could come to end.
Tournament organizers, Dove Mountain owners, Cottonwood Properties and other stakeholders remain locked in negotiations to determine whether professional golf stays in Southern Arizona or moves on to greener fairways.
With perhaps the most to lose from a possible departure, Marana doesn’t have a seat at the negotiating table.
The town has made considerable efforts to promote development and invested in transportation in recent years, including the Twin Peaks Interchange at Interstate 10. While not explicitly for the benefit of golf spectators, town officials clearly had the tournament in mind.
“Now that there’s a straight shot to the golf area, we think we’ll do pretty well,” Honea said.
He also noted that several hotels have gone up an easy distance from the tournament site in Dove Mountain.
“It means a lot to the business community of Marana,” said Ed Stolmaker, president of the Marana Chamber of Commerce.
Stolmaker said the service industry receives an important boost during the week of match play. He also noted that the PGA and its local partners with the Tucson Conquistadores have raised more than $1 million for local charities since play began in 2007.
The actual economic impact the tournament has on the region remains unclear.
Since first coming to the Northwest, conventional wisdom has suggested a $100 million impact associated with the tour. The origins and accuracy of that figure aren’t clear.
PGA officials haven’t conducted an analysis and told The Explorer in 2007 that the figure didn’t come from them.
Honea estimates the tournament could prompt some $50 million in retail sales during its weeklong residency, but said much of that is spent outside of the town.
“Most of the money that is made — as far as hotels, restaurants and car rentals — is in the city of Tucson,” Honea said. “It hasn’t been a big money maker (for Marana).”
The mayor speculates that the town at best breaks even on the tournament because of the investment of staff time put in to making the event run smoothly.
In 2010, the town budgeted $140,000 to pay for police and parking associated with the tournament. Accenture and the PGA pay for police inside the event.
While the town has not conducted an economic impact analysis specific to the Accenture week, it has compared sales tax revenue for the past four Februaries to gauge the potential impact. Sales tax generations throughout the town topped $971,000 in February 2007, the inaugural year of the event.
Tax collections — including retail, restaurant and lodging taxes — declined in subsequent years. In 2009, totals reached a low of $813,000.
Last year’s collections picked up, bringing in more than $1 million.
The numbers appear to have been dragged down by poor overall economic conditions. The figures for restaurant and lodging tax collections grew.
Restaurant taxes generated $105,000 in 2007 and $153,000 in 2010. Lodging taxes totaled $92,800 in 2007 and swelled to more than $258,000 last year.
The larger impact for the town comes from the intangibles that thousands of tourists and millions of worldwide television viewers bring.
“When you see people in polo shirts (in February) playing golf, that kind of advertising you can’t buy,” Honea said.
He said the tour and the exposure could have a long-term ripple effect, with people deciding to visit the region after seeing it on television.
If tour organizers are entertaining offers from other communities, Honea said they’ve done a good job at keeping it a secret.
“The one thing that makes me feel good is I haven’t heard any rumors,” Honea said.
Whatever the impact of the tournament and its possible departure, everyone agrees it would be a loss for the region.
“The impact without having Accenture here would be enormous,” Stolmaker said. “It would be a great loss for everybody.”