Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the September 2017 issue of Golfweek.
Shortly after last season’s men’s and women’s NCAA championships, news broke that starting in 2020 the events would have a new semi-permanent home: Grayhawk Golf Club’s Raptor Course in Scottsdale, Ariz.
The change is setting in as reality, but some voices still advocate for rotating venues.
“I understand the business side of this decision, and it makes total sense with regards to the Golf Channel and the future of the championship being on TV,” Illinois coach Mike Small said. ” … From a competitive standpoint, however, moving the finals around the country and competing at different venues under different course and weather conditions every year lends itself to a truer national championship.”
Finding a recurring championship site has been compared to the college baseball World Series, which makes its annual trek to Omaha, Neb., each spring. But golf is different. With the exception of the Masters or ANA Inspiration, major championships are played at different venues, only returning to individual sites every several years at best. The thought of playing a U.S. Open or British Open at the same site each year is not appealing.
Match play could be the saving grace for the NCAAs. If the championship were stroke play, it would never work. Match play can bring the field closer together, making this move less controversial.
“If it were a stroke-play event only, I would probably jump up and down,” Alabama coach Jay Seawell said.
It’s no secret venues are getting harder to secure.
The new televised match-play format for men and women ties up a course for more than two weeks.
“My preference would be to play all over the country, for the student-athletes to have a variety of experiences,” LSU coach Chuck Winstead said. “I think it’s fairly obvious that there are inherent differences in our sport than others, relative to the type of course conditions you find region to region. That said, it’s great that Grayhawk has an interest in NCAA golf.”
The positives are that Grayhawk offers a standing location that could help the event gain momentum and familiarity in a local market, which might attract a bigger fan base. Scottsdale and the greater Phoenix area are known for golf, and for television purposes an annual trip to the same spot could ease many of the nuances and costs associated with production.
“I get why we do it. To have your game promoted on television will always outweigh your personal opinion,” Seawell said. “It would be great to travel all over. But there are positives to having it on TV. Whatever can be done to promote the game is the best thing.”
Still, most of the college golf community would like to see a rotation of courses, ideally among sites in the eastern, central and western regions.
Maybe Grayhawk will do for college golf what Omaha has done for college baseball, maybe it won’t. Regardless, Grayhawk and Arizona State deserve credit for stepping up under the circumstances presented to give the NCAAs a home.
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Additional Coaches’ Quotes on Grayhawk Move
“I do not know Grayhawk well enough to have an opinion about its suitability for a women’s championship. Because it annually hosts a quality junior girls event, my guess is the course will suit the women pretty well. If putting our championship on the same course for three years makes it so the course is set up right for the women’s game, then I am OK with it staying in one place. For two of the last three championships, the course has not been properly set up for women. So if the only cost of getting it right is to go to the same course three years in a row, then I can live with it. I would prefer we go to different courses, but if moving around means that every other year there won’t be tees in the right places, or too few pin placements for back-to-back events, or greens that won’t receive a lower trajectory, then the lesser of two evils is to stay in one place, if they’ve found a course that’s right.” – Duke women’s golf coach Dan Brooks
“I think it throws some extra twists in the NCAA storyline. There will be an advantage after the first year to teams and players who competed the previous year. There will also be an opportunity for course setup changes based on the previous year’s experience. We are almost guaranteed to have no weather delays, which is a huge benefit but on the flip side, the heat could potentially take a toll on the players over the course of the event. ASU will definitely benefit from a home-crowd advantage if they make it to the match-play stages, but that’s all part of sports, we just don’t experience it much in golf outside of the Ryder Cup, Solheim Cup, etc. … Overall, I’m glad we were able to secure a high-quality venue to host the NCAA Championships. The host golf course, staff and community makes a big commitment when they agree to host NCAAs; we are fortunate to have Grayhawk step up and open their doors to us.” – Stanford women’s golf coach Anne Walker
“I am good with the idea. We will almost assuredly have good weather, which will help with schedules and television times. No one likes delays. Regardless if you are for the move or not, it’s still competition and that’s what true competitors want, a place to compete.” – Baylor men’s golf coach Mike McGraw
“Not a fan of the three-year arrangement. I’m sure there are reasons, probably financial, that were the primary reason for this type of commitment. That said, let’s hope we continue to showcase these great collegiate golfers.” – Kent State men’s golf coach Herb Page
“It is so important to get this decision right. I think they have with Grayhawk. It makes sense to go to a place where the weather will be more predictable. The tournament will run without the delays and uncertainty that comes with weather issues. This makes it a better experience for players and coaches and much better for our television partners. Most importantly, they have found a course that offers the kind of challenge necessary to host our championship. Grayhawk has plenty of length.” – USC men’s golf coach Chris Zambri
“I really don’t have super strong feelings on the situation. It is a little weird to go to a desert golf course for three straight years. And it will be a nice advantage for ASU. But kudos to them for investing in the championship and hitting a home run. We will get our sunscreen ready and hopefully get a chance to compete for a championship during that window of time.” – Oregon men’s golf coach Casey Martin
“Bad decision, in my opinion. Not possibly in the best interest of the students.” – Purdue Director of Golf Devon Brouse
“It’s too bad that the NCAA was unable to find a venue that wasn’t someone’s home course. Looking ahead, Arizona State should be heavily favored on both sides in the coming years. I think it would help if they would be a bit more realistic as far as access for other teams. If one school can play the championship course 365 days a year, I don’t see what the problem is with other programs playing it during the year. And don’t try to tell me that isn’t a huge advantage.” – Washington women’s coach Mary Lou Mulflur
“We are honored to be chosen as hosts for the NCAA Championships at Grayhawk Golf Club, and also thankful that ASU and Grayhawk stepped up to ensure the event will be successful and on television for men and women into the distant future. We are thrilled to host everyone here in Arizona, where golf is life. It’s especially cool to host on a public facility that is so well known and that any person can come play, any time. We see it as a great way to increase the exposure and momentum the NCAA Championships is building as one of the world’s premier golf events, professional or amateur.” – Arizona State men’s golf coach Matt Thurmond
“I think for me, I support whatever our leadership thinks is ultimately best for the college game and its growth. If we are fortunate enough to be at the NCAA Championships during those years, I can promise you that we will be ecstatic about it! TV has obviously been huge and moving our Championship to Grayhawk will certainly enhance the television aspect. What I mean is that we will be in primetime for most of the U.S. and we won’t have any weather delays that time of year in Phoenix which will be nice. Match play definitely brings a different feel to the Championship and so far it has been a huge success. In the end, I think we want to be at a location that supports the event and we feel welcome and also offers an experience worthy of an NCAA Championship.” – Vanderbilt men’s coach Scott Limbaugh