Dell Match Play to be scrapped; Austin CC demands too great for PGA Tour
Rest in peace, World Golf Championships.
Golfweek has learned that this will be the final year of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin. Its place in the 2024 calendar, which is usually late March at the back of the Florida Swing, should be taken by the Cadence Bank Houston Open. Attempts to reach Dell Match Play Tournament Director Jordan Uppleger were unsuccessful. A PGA Tour spokesperson said, “No comment.”
Austin Country Club has hosted Match Play since 2016, when Dell became the title sponsor. At the time, the World Golf Championships were considered the highest-ranked golf tournaments behind the four majors and the Players Championship, the tour’s flagship event.
Purses for the WGC, which began in 1999, were high, fields were mostly limited to top-ranked players, and there were no seamless events. (Tiger Woods has won 18 WGCs with Dustin Johnson capturing second with five.)
In 2021, the number of WGC events was reduced by two, with the WGC-Mexico Open being reduced to a regular PGA Tour event and the WGC-FedEx St. Jude being converted to a FedEx Cup Qualifiers first leg.
The demise of WGC Match Play technically leaves the WGC-HSBC champions as the last WGC standing, but the tournament, which is contested in China, has not been played since 2019 due to COVID-19. There is also no indication that the tournament will be able to be staged this year, and the LPGA has just canceled a tournament on Hainan Island in China that was scheduled for March due to “ongoing COVID-19 issues”. .
The Match Play, where Scottie Scheffler won to reach world No. 1 last spring, is one of the Tour’s new designated events this season. It will be contested in March for a tournament-record purse of $20 million, but that’s also the same amount as 10 tournaments high, which has depreciated the WGC brand. (The fact that the majority of the events take place in the United States also made the name a misnomer.)
The PGA Tour Players’ Advisory Council met last Tuesday at the Farmers Insurance Open and the 2024 Tour schedule was a topic of conversation. Kevin Streelman, who is a member of the PAC, confirmed that the future of Match Play was on the agenda.
“They talked about it a little bit,” Streelman said. “I hope they can save him. It’s a matter of sponsorship.
“It’s pretty well known,” he added, but noted, “there’s definitely no decision yet.”
However, multiple sources told Golfweek that a decision has been made and a high-ranking executive who oversees the Tour’s championship management department has already told Austin staff to “start putting things in place.”
The Tour sent a proposal to Austin Country Club more than four months ago and the ACC pushed back hard, countering with an exorbitant increase in its venue fees and ticket requests for its members. The Tour hesitated and for several months there was no communication between the two parties. It didn’t help matters that the members were split with a major camp that thought the event had run its course there. According to a source, the ACC came to their senses and tried to re-engage, but the Tour remained “radio silent” for four months. Two weeks ago, the ACC sent the Tour an unsolicited proposal agreeing to the Tour’s original terms and extending the deal for another two years.
“I heard it didn’t go well,” said a PGA Tour tournament director for another event, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to his relationship with both parties. “They got out of there.”
It’s not too often that the Tour raises the stakes and leaves a city unless a sponsor runs away and that is the last resort. But a source says that in August the Tour declined Intel, which Dell wanted as a partner, to serve as title sponsor. The chipmaker was willing to sign on the dotted line for five years for somewhere between $5 million and $8 million a year. But the Tour, knowing perhaps that its calendar must evolve to counter the attack of LIV Golf, the league reached, would only commit to one year. No agreement has been reached.
As previously reported by Golfweek, Jim Crane, the billionaire owner of the Houston Astros, has been playing hardball in hopes of bringing the Houston stoppage back into the main schedule, preferably with a date in the spring. The CJ Cup, which originated in South Korea in 2017 but has been played in the United States since the pandemic and was most recently held in South Carolina in October, is also eager to update its dates from in the fall calendar. The Tour has yet to release its schedule for next season, but the loss of Match Play could mean at least one less designated event in 2024, or its replacement in the schedule could be increased.
“The Tour isn’t going to hold back from making match play,” said a tournament director. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see it resurface elsewhere.”
But for now, it looks like Match Play is down and out of holes.
Photos: 2022 WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play at Austin Country Club in Texas See 37 photos