The WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play tournament will return to Austin Country Club in 2018. And in 2019.
And in all probability far beyond.
It seems clear the PGA Tour wants a home here. Michael Dell wants it here. NBC certainly isn’t opposed to all those videolicious shots of Pennybacker Bridge and the multitude of sunbathers on the some three dozen boats and one canoe floating on the Colorado River Sunday afternoon.
But does ACC want it back for the long term?
Some do. Some don’t. Probably a whole lot more do than don’t, but until negotiations get more serious, the long-term future of this event at ACC remains in limbo past two more years. But a very positive limbo.
One long-time ACC member said he thinks an extension of six more years through 2025 will be approved if the PGA Tour sweetens the pot, and it’s likely the membership could be polled before the end of the year.
Bet on it staying, and that’s a good thing for Austin, for golfers, for the sport.
“Nothing formal is going on. We’re not having serious discussions yet,” ACC president Trey Thompson said. “But it’s inevitable.”
It doesn’t hurt that for the third year in a row at this event, the No. 1 player in the world has come out on top. When Dustin Johnson rolled in his three-foot par putt on No. 18 to beat Jon Rahm by one hole, the top-ranked player won his third consecutive event. Austin won big, too.
“This provides a great showcase for Austin,” Gov. Greg Abbott said after the closing ceremony. “This was great. It reminded me of the Super Bowl when at halftime, everybody thought it was over. When Dustin was 5-up on the front nine, it seemed inevitable he’d win. It was just a matter of which hole.”
Rahm’s birdies on 13, 15 and 16 added some extra drama to a tournament that grows in flair. CEO Michael Dell spoke glowingly as the title sponsor.
“We’re signed through 2019,” Dell told me Monday. “Every year we look at it and evaluate it. We’re talking about that in future sessions. A better question would be for the PGA. I think they’re incredibly pleased.”
New PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said as much Sunday, praising the “beautiful conditions” and calling ACC “the perfect place for match play format.”
ACC has offered a beautiful backdrop of Lake Austin, a hilly Pete Dye course, a round-robin format for the first three days that the players find fair and a golf-crazy town that’s ripe for any type of professional sports since it’s the 39th biggest television market in the country and the largest city in the country without a pro sports team.
The tournament went off almost flawlessly in year two. Save for some ferocious wind on Thursday, the weather has cooperated. The event has been sold out early in both years.
While all but one of the top 10 ranked players save Johnson were eliminated before weekend play, there were still enough draws like the rising 22-year-old Spaniard Rahm. Hideto Tanihara, a 38-year-old veteran with 14 wins on the Japan Tour and a skilled putter, pressed Johnson to the limit in the semifinals before bowing out on the 18th hole.
Besides the best 64 golfers in the world, the tournament drew celebrities like hockey superstar Wayne Gretzky and football Hall of Famer Earl Campbell. The Heisman Trophy winner counts Johnson as his favorite golfer and said he absolutely loves watching golf. “I watch as much golf as I do football,” he said.
An overwhelming 92 percent of the ACC membership, which totals 650 with voting privileges, initially approved the use of one of the state’s best golf treasures where Harvey Penick taught Ben Crenshaw and Tom Kite. If an extension was offered, the former board member said, “I think it would pass. But I don’t think it would be 92 percent.”
A member of the host committee also said it would pass, but only 75 percent would sign on for an extension.
Many of the older members have groused about the “inconveniences” of the event, which closes the golf course to the members for two weeks in March and makes it off limits for 10 days or more for overseeding in the prime playing month of October. Some are bothered by the clamor of construction of tents and grandstands that began the day after Christmas.
From Dell’s standpoint, he’s not heard any negativity.
“I’ve not heard any of that,” Dell said. “I think it’s brought great prestige to the club and to Austin. The response has been overwhelmingly positive.”
The PGA Tour just needs to pony up more cash to ensure the event stays here. It should guarantee ACC much more than the $500,000 it cleared last year in the inaugural year and the expected $750,000 it is projected to make this year.
“That’s the hope,” the ACC member said. “And the same people who grumble love it when it’s actually here.”
The site and the tour are perfect for each other. Thompson remains optimistic.
“It’s not old versus young,” he said. “You’re not ever going to have 100 percent behind it. Still, the vast majority loves having it. And it’s never been about the money.”
No, it’s about a home.