Shackelford: Strengthening the match play and golf's future in Austin

AUSTIN, TX - MARCH 25: Bubba Watson of the United States reacts to his chip on the fifth hole during his final round match against Kevin Kisner of the United States in the World Golf Championships-Dell Match Play at Austin Country Club on March 25, 2018 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images) Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Shackelford: Strengthening the match play and golf's future in Austin

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Shackelford: Strengthening the match play and golf's future in Austin

AUSTIN, Texas – After years of gate changes, the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play should be settling into a first-class seat for the foreseeable future. But a slight change of flight path could serve all sides to validate the Austin success story and continue professional golf’s best match-play event.

To recap: Dell signed a four-year deal to sponsor the event in 2015 with Austin Country Club – home of Harvey Penick and a Pete Dye design perfect for match play. Club sources say the PGA Tour already has exercised an option for 2019. Beyond then, the stars will have to come together and make sure this event keeps building on three years of momentum.

While the format will forever be part of the discussion with this event, Dell and the supportive fans of Austin have been happy to ensure at least three days with some of the world’s best players. The event’s placement close to the Masters also has been a source of griping, but after next year’s event, the calendar could force a move to May, when players can then complain about the less-than-perfect format for PGA Championship preparation.

A May move likely would make the 1,200 or so members of Austin Country Club happy, as their course no longer would need a cumbersome winter overseeding and they’d get back some peak spring golf season dates. They also will continue to collect one of the PGA Tour’s largest site rental fees.

Of greater concern should be ensuring that Dell and Austin remain engaged in an event that also has brought out the best in the PGA Tour’s Championship Management division, operators of all WGC events. The community continues to be invested in the week thanks to more tickets available since Year One, when the Dell was essentially a members-only affair. There have been $2.1 million in charitable contributions made with another million expected from the 2018 tournament. While all the causes are worthy, the event might be invigorated by a short-term charitable backing of the Save Muny cause.

The sense of community here is stronger and more progressive than most growing cities, best evidenced by a sold-out Friday night fundraiser attended by Ben Crenshaw and hosted by Austin’s Criquet shirt brand. The Save Muny cause is raising funds to protect and restore Lions Municipal, the lovely and affordable course operated by the city where Crenshaw grew up playing. The University of Texas owns the property and wants to bulldoze it for commercial real estate, even as organizations such as the U.S. Golf Association have spoken out to save this ideal city-center American public golf treasure.

As the WGC-Dell Match Play’s future is imagined, seeing a golf tournament’s charitable proceeds go to saving and restoring a genuine grow-the-game facility, would only make this tournament stronger while affirming Dell’s community gravitas. Such a twist in the charitable story, combined with finding a schedule sweet spot, would give the match play a refined sense of place and ensure many on-time and on-par landings in the coming years. Gwk

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