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Official Review by Jason Bartel, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
The WGC Accenture Match Play Championships is one of the most unique weekends on the golf schedule every year. Different from most other PGA Tour events, play starts on Wednesday, has 6 rounds, and it is not a regular stroke play event. Match Play features the top 64 golfers in the world golf rankings, making it one of the best tournament fields every year. The field makes Match Play one of the premier sporting events in Arizona.
Match Play moved to Marana, Arizona (just north of Tucson) in 2007, originally being played at The Gallery Golf Club. In 2009, it moved up the road to the Jack Nicklaus designed Ritz-Carlton Golf Club at Dove Mountain. The course is located in the northwest foothills of the Tucson valley, and a lot of the natural desert setting has been left alone. The views are unbelievable, and the golf is pretty good too.
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Dove Mountain has food tents set up in all of the high traffic areas of the course, all offering pretty much the same food. Food can be a little expensive, but not outrageous. A ˝ pound cheeseburger will cost you $7, as will a hot dog, chips and soda combo meal. They also offer the Tucson favorite, the Sonoran Hot Dog, a hot dog wrapped in bacon, for $7.
In addition to the food tents, there are also beverage carts along some of the spectator walkways. You are allowed to take beer with you wherever you go on the course, but it is $7.50 for a bottle. Also, if you plan on spending most of the day out on the course and not near the driving range and 1st tee, you'll want to make sure you have cash on you as some of the food tents and carts do not have the ability to take cards.
You can bring in outside food; a lot of people I saw brought sandwiches and bottled water with them. They do not allow really big bags or coolers though, so if you do bring stuff it has to be able to fit into a purse.
The course is built into the natural desert landscape, providing unbelievable views of the north Tucson and Marana area. All of the holes still have the natural desert surrounding them, adding a unique hazard for the golfers. There is only one water hazard on the course, and it can be found on the Par 3 3rd hole.
There are a few grandstands set up: 1st tee, 9th green/10th tee, and 16th green. When going early in the tournament (Wednesday and Thursday), I feel it's best to hang out at the 1st tee or green to see as many golfers as you can before half of them get eliminated. Then, once you have seen as many of the world's top golfers as possible, either follow one group, or head out to the corner of the course where you can see 14, 15 and 16 all in one place. With how Match Play works, a lot of matches end at 15 and 16, and the grandstands set up at 16 let you see the ending of those matches while giving you a nice place to sit. Also on the 15th tee and 16th green, there is the Canyon Club, where you can pay extra to hang out in what seems to be a party atmosphere at the golf course.
Throughout the course, there are digital scoreboards giving updates on the more popular players, as well as every match currently on the course. This is very helpful since there are no real announcers at a golf tournament. Also, some people that track distances for the PGA at the greens have access to the radio broadcast, so they can give you updates if you ask them nicely.
When matches finish, if you are in the right spot, the players are almost always willing to give an autograph, or a ball, or a glove. The golfers are very fan-friendly for the most part, and getting the chance to talk to them after their match and get something signed by them just adds to the experience of going to Match Play.
The entire Dove Mountain property is very isolated from the rest of the Tucson/Marana/Oro Valley area. Dove Mountain Blvd. is all high-end residential with beautiful homes built into the mountains, but no entertainment options.
The nearest entertainment is Oro Valley Marketplace which has a lot of major chain restaurants, shops, and an AMC movie theatre. But it is about a 10 minute drive from the Match Play parking lot. OV Marketplace is located at the corner of Tangerine and Oracle. If you go south on Oracle from there, you will find a lot more restaurants and stores.
If you live in Southern Arizona, chances are you are an older person who plays a lot of golf. These people make their presence felt at Match Play, a lot of them having played the course themselves sometime during the year since it is a public course. A lot of people there definitely know a lot about golf, not necessarily some of the players that aren't huge names though.
It's a very friendly atmosphere among the people at the tournament, chatting about some of the shots they've seen earlier in the day, or about some random facts that they know about a certain golfer.
The Ritz-Carlton course at Dove Mountain is located at the very northern end of Dove Mountain Blvd. Fans coming from the north on I-10 should exit at Tangerine, and take that east for a while until reaching the general parking lot that is at the northwest corner of Tangerine and Dove Mountain. If you're coming from the south, get off I-10 at Twin Peaks, and Twin Peaks eventually turns into Dove Mountain, taking you right to the parking lots. There are also several roads that lead from Tucson all the way out to Tangerine, including Oracle, La Canada, La Cholla and Thornydale.
The general parking lot is at the northwest corner of Dove Mountain and Tangerine, and it costs $10 per car. From there, you get on a bus which drives you up Dove Mountain and drops you off right at the entrance to the golf course. There are also reserved lots that are farther up Dove Mountain which you can buy passes for, but no matter what, you are taking some kind of shuttle to the course.
Bathrooms out on the course are just port-a-potties, but they have them in huge groups near where the grandstands and concession stands are. There are signs throughout the course telling you how to get to certain holes, as well as where the nearest concession stand and restroom block is. There aren't usually any long lines for food or bathrooms, and generally you can get very close to all of the greens no matter who's playing. A couple of players draw larger crowds including Jim Furyk, who went to the University of Arizona.
Security checks happen before you get on the shuttle and when you get to the golf course. They are very quick and easy. There is handicap access for people who need it, but since the course is built into the foothills, there are some very steep hills on some of the holes.
Tickets can be a little pricey, ranging from $45-$60 depending on the day you want to attend. Prices are lower when you buy in advance, so if you want to experience Match Play, you should decide early and buy tickets early. I think it's better to go on Wednesday or Thursday since there are more players those days than later in the week, but they are also the more expensive days.
Food is also a little expensive, but you can bring some of your own food to help with this. Parking will cost you $10, which isn't too bad. Overall it's a very unique sports experience, especially in Arizona, and fun to hang out on the course for the day.
The scenery around the course is unbelievable when the sun is out. However, in 2011 and 2013, play was delayed due to snow and frost, which happens more often where the course is because it is higher in elevation than most of the Tucson area.
The PGA Tour has a huge merchandise tent set up right next to the driving range. If you're looking for a Tiger Woods hat, or Rickie Fowler-style Puma hat, you can find it here. The merchandise tent also has a seating area where you can sit and watch players warm up while enjoying your lunch.
Dove Mountain has their pro shop open too, which came in handy during the blizzard. But if you're looking for something one of a kind that isn't necessarily PGA Tour related, they offer tons of golf course specific items in the pro shop.
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