With Annika Sorenstam going for a three-peat and a colorful supporting cast that is lacking only by a Wie bit, the upcoming Safeway International at Superstition Mountain Golf and Country Club is looking quite chic.
But how long will the LPGA tournament, now in its third year in the East Valley, stick around?
This is the final year of a three-year contract between the Tournament Golf Foundation of Portland, Ore., which runs the event, and the Scottsdale-based Lyle Anderson Co., which owns Superstition Mountain.
Tom Maletis, the CEO of TGF, said “Lyle’s happy, and we’re happy.”
“Nothing is final yet,” Maletis added. “But what we’re discussing is two more years — 2007 and 2008 — with an option for a third year in ’09.”
Maletis said the plan would be for the tournament to remain at Superstition Mountain through 2008, then possibly move to another Anderson property — Festival — in the northwest Valley the following year.
“What we foresee happening is that (Superstition Mountain) area will build out in the next two years to the point where we’ll run into some infrastructure problems by 2009, or perhaps sooner,” Maletis said. “It’s already gotten to the point where it’s getting a little tight out there.”
Mark Kizziar, the president of Superstition Mountain Properties Inc., agreed with Maletis’ assessment, although he said the tournament might stay in the East Valley through 2009.
“I guess we’ll have to get through ‘08 before we really know where it will be in ‘09,” Kizziar said. “If Festival is ready, and Superstition Mountain is built out to the point where we might have (infrastructure) problems, then maybe (the move) would come sooner.
“But right now, we’re thinking more about keeping it at Superstition Mountain, and then taking it out to Festival in 2010.’’
It would be a giant geographical leap, as the 7,000-acre Festival property is located at 287th Avenue and Sun Valley Parkway, which is an extension of Bell Road. As the crow flies, it would be 50 to 60 miles from Superstition Mountain, probably closer to 75 miles if driven by car.
According to Kizziar, noted architect Jack Nicklaus already is planning a golf course at Festival. He said the yet-to-be-named course will be ready by 2008, but perhaps not the infrastructure.
“But we did hold the first Tradition (at Desert Mountain) without a paved road on the inside of the property,’’ he said of the former Champions Tour event that moved from Desert Mountain in north Scottsdale to Superstition Mountain in 2002, and then on to Portland in 2003.
In 2004, the Safeway International jumped from Moon Valley Country Club in north Phoenix to Superstition Mountain and has been very successful, last year drawing 105,000 fans for the week. That was an increase of approximately 20,000 to 25,000 fans from its 16-year run at Moon Valley.
“Having the tournament at Superstition Mountain has been the perfect fit for us, even if we have had to iron out some issues,’’ Maletis said. “We’d like to keep it there forever, but eventually the build-out and infrastructure will force us to move it.’’
It’s the nomadic nature of the tournament, now in its 26th year. During that span, it has undergone five name changes at five venues, which also include Hillcrest Golf Club in Sun City West, the Arizona Biltmore and The Legacy Golf Resort in Phoenix.
This year’s tournament is set for March 16-19, with Sorenstam heading a field that features the top 30 money winners from 2005. Sorenstam, who recently was ranked the No. 1 player in women’s golf, has won the event the last two years.
Teen sensation Michelle Wie, who had played in both events at Superstition Mountain, turned down a sponsor’s exemption this year, citing issues with her high school schedule. But the rest of the LPGA brat pack — Paula Creamer, Morgan Pressel, Brittany Lang and Natalie Gulbis — will be there.