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Tucson Open History

 

The Tucson Open debuted in 1945 at El Rio Golf Club. The tournament is the ninth oldest on the PGA TOUR. The Tucson Conquistadores assumed sponsorship of the tournament in 1966.

 EARLY YEARS

 The Tournament was founded by Hall of Fame professional golfer, Leo Diegel. In the early 1940’s, Diegel, then the pro at El Rio Golf Club, convinced PGA TOUR Commissioner Fred Corcoran that Tucson was big enough to support a professional tournament.

Diegel’s discussions with the PGA coincided with the financial collapse of the El Paso Open, and in January of 1945, Tucson was inserted into El Paso’s spot, making it the third stop on the TOUR.

The first Tucson Open on January 19-21 featured a field of 47 players competing for a share of the $5,000 purse. First place paid $1,000. Ray Magnum captured the event with a 12-under-par 268, edging out Byron Nelson at the El Rio Golf Club. A gallery of 3,500 people watched the finale, which included 36 holes of play: 18 in the morning and another 18 in the afternoon

 TUCSON GOLF ASSOCIATION

Following Diegel’s death in 1951, Ricki Rarick, a decorated Army Air Corps veteran, World War II prisoner of war and professional golfer from Iowa, formed the Tucson Golf Association. Rarick and his TGA nurtured the Tournament through 1965. During this time, the event moved from El Rio to the 49er Country Club in 1963 and finally to Tucson National in 1965.

NEW LIFE

The Tucson Conquistadores, a group of prominent local businessmen who conduct sports events to benefit youth sports charities, gave the Tournament new life when they took over in 1966.

Purses were beginning to escalate and sponsorship of a professional golf event became big business. The Conquistadores raised the purse from $60,000 to $110,000 in four years without the help of an additional sponsor.

CELEBRITY ORIGIN

 The Conquistadores brought celebrity sponsorship to the Tournament in 1972 and with it, the first network broadcast. Singer Dean Martin was the first host to lend his name and gather his friends from the entertainment world to participate in the event. The Dean Martin Tucson Open was televised by NBC. The network’s additional financial support, along with a contribution from the city, allowed the Conquistadores to increase the purse to $150,000.

Martin continued as the celebrity host through 1975. The Tournament was sponsored solely by NBC in 1976 with the network initially planning to provide a different celebrity host for the Tournament each year beginning in 1977. The first selection, network baseball announcer Joe Garagiola, proved so popular that the Tournament was known as the Joe Garagiola Tucson Open until the Seiko Time Corporation became the sponsor in 1984.

CORPORATE MATCH

With a new corporate sponsor, the Tournament became a match play event with a division for seniors as well as regular PGA TOUR players. The event was switched from mid-winter to the fall to accommodate television coverage, the first since NBC discontinued its coverage in 1981.

The match play championships continued for three years. The format returned to stroke play in 1987 as the Seiko Tucson Open. The Tournament was switched from Randolph North, to the brand new PGA TOUR-operated Tournament Players Club at StarPass*.

 EVOLUTION

The tradition of the tournaments 60 events consists of many exciting champions, celebrities and changes. The Tournament has involved more than 5,000 contestants playing more than a million Tournament strokes.

During this period the event has been known by 13 names. Five courses have been used, including two sites from 1990 to 1996, and again in 2001. There have been five major sponsors as well as four celebrity hosts. The dates have changed from mid-winter to late fall and back again.

In the early days of the Tournament, the purse and support money were actually procured through Calcuttas, big-stakes craps and blackjack games held in a makeshift casino at El Rio Golf Club.

MODERN TIMES

Recent sponsors of the event include Nortel, formerly Northern Telecom (1988-1996) and Chrysler (1997-1998). Under these sponsorships, the Open remained competitive among other PGA TOUR events with four purse increases in 10 years (from $600,000 in 1988 to $2,000,000 in 1998). Touchstone Energy increased the purse again to $2,750,000 in 1999 and to $3,000,000 in 2000. DaimlerChrysler sponsored the 2003 through 2006 tournaments.

Television coverage by ESPN was provided for Nortel’s last Open in 1996. ABC Sports Network coverage resumed in 1997 and 1998 for the Tucson Chrysler Classic Tournament. In 1999 and 2000, PAX-TV provided coverage of the Touchstone Energy Tucson Open on Thursday and Friday. CNBC took over Saturday and Sunday.

In 2001, coverage was provided by PAX-TV for Friday’s round, with local coverage on KVOA TV 4. CNBC Sports televised the second and third rounds on Saturday and Sunday (round 2 was postponed on Friday due to weather). The Golf Channel stepped in on Monday, January 15 to cover the final round. The 2002 tournament was televised Thursday through Sunday on The Golf Channel. USA Network came on board in 2003 and aired the tournament through 2006.

TRADITIONAL TOUR STOP

Over the years, every "big name" in golf history has competed in the Tournament. Byron Nelson played in the first Tucson Open placing second. Ben Hogan played in the late 1940’s. He didn’t win. Neither did the legendary Sam Snead. But Arnold Palmer played and rewarded thousands of "Arnie’s Army" fans with a victory in 1967.

Palmer’s followers gave way to "Lee’s Fleas," the large galleries following Lee Trevino during his wins in 1969 and 1970.

Many of the Tournament’s most captivating memories came from Johnny Miller. Miller was dubbed the Desert Fox when he won the Tournament from 1974-76 and added a fourth title in 1981. Jack Nicklaus played in the 1963 Tucson Open. He didn’t make the cut.

Besides being named for Martin and Garagiola, the Tournament has also honored Diegel (1951), Lloyd Mangrum (1950) and H.S. "Hi" Corbett (1960). Mangrum won the Tournament in 1949 and 1951; Corbett was the chairman of the first several Tournaments.

ONE-YEAR MONIKERS

In 1946, the Tourney was called the Victory Bond Tucson Open. The title of Home of the Sun Open Invitational in 1961 wasn’t generally accepted. The first corporate label came in 1965 when the sponsor, Holmes Tuttle Broadway Ford, called it the Ford Mustang Tucson Open.

FIRST-TIMERS

The Tucson PGA TOUR Event produced three first-time winners in the first three years of the ‘90s: Robert Gamez (1990), Phil Mickelson (1991) and Lee Janzen (1992). And three first-time winners in the first three years of the 2000’s: Jim Carter (2000), Garrett Willis (2001), Ian Leggatt (2002), Heath Slocum (2004) and Geoff Ogilvy (2005).

Other players who recorded their first win in the event were Mike Reid (1987), Bruce Lietzke (1977), J.C. Snead (1971), Dave Hill (1961), Lionel Hebert (1958) and Skip Alexander (1948).

REPEAT WINNERS

1996’s victory marked Phil Mickelson’s third win in Tucson. His first came as an amateur in 1991, when he couldn’t collect a penny for his achievement. His second and wins in Tucson in 1995 and 1996 earned him the $225,000 first-place checks.

Mickelson joins a proud group of repeat winners in Tucson, headed by Johnny Miller, who won four times (1974-76, and 1981). Gene Littler is the only three-time winner (1959, 1977, 1984). Two-time winners are Jimmy Demaret (1946-47), Lloyd Mangrum (1949, 1951), Tommy Bolt (1953, 1955), Don January (1960, 1963), Lee Trevino (1969-1970), Bruce Lietzke (1977, 1979), Tom Watson (1978, 1984), and Jim Thorpe (1985-86). Littler’s third, Watson’s second, and both of Thorpe’s victories came during the Tournament’s match play format.

DEADLOCKED

Playoffs were needed to decide the outcome of the Tournament eight times in the 60 years of the event.

The first playoff was held in 1957 and Dow Finsterwald captured the 18-hole contest over Don Whitt. In 1972, the only other 18-hole playoff in the event’s history was conducted to determine the champion. At the end of 18 holes, Miller Barber and George Archer remained deadlocked. A sudden-death playoff resulted in Barber winning on the third extra hole.

The other six playoffs were played under the sudden-death format. In 1961, Dave Hill defeated Tommy Bolt and Buddy Sullivan on the third hole. In 1966, Joe Campbell beat Gene Littler on the first hole. Lee Trevino triumphed over Bob Murphy on the first hole in 1970. Bruce Lietzke defeated Littler on the fourth hole for his first PGA TOUR victory in 1977. After two holes of sudden death, Dr. Gil Morgan downed Curtis Strange and Lanny Wadkins in 1983. Geoff Ogilvy eliminated Mark Calcavecchia then Kevin Na to capture his first PGA TOUR win in 2005.

WIRE-TO-WIRE

There have been eight wire-to-wire victories recorded in Tucson since the beginning of the event. Johnny Miller had consecutive wire-to-wire wins in 1974 and 1975. The others occurred as follows: Don January set the record margin of 11 strokes in 1963, Bob Charles (1965), Arnold Palmer (1967), Tom Watson (1978), Bruce Lietzke (1979) and Craig Stadler (1982).

BACK–TO-BACK

On five occasions, golfers scored back-to-back wins in the two Arizona professional golf tournaments, the Phoenix and Tucson Opens. The feat was accomplished first by Gene Littler in 1959, followed by George Knudson in 1968, Bruce Crampton in 1973, Johnny Miller in 1974 and 1975, and Phil Mickelson in 1996.

WEATHER OR NOT

The 2003 Chrysler Classic marked the first time play was suspended due to the threat of lightning. After the 49-minute suspension late in the championship round, Lickliter came to the last tee with a one-stroke lead over Campbell. Electricity was in the air when Lickliter finished the tournament with a two-stroke victory. In 2004, history repeated itself with second round play suspended at 4:37 p.m. due to the threat of lightening. Second round play was completed on Friday.

Heavy rains at Omni Tucson National and snow at The Gallery Golf Club delayed play during the second round of the 2001 Touchstone Energy Tucson Open, forcing a final round on Monday.

Only two other tournaments in the Tucson Open’s 57-year history were delayed due to weather. In 1980, the longest and wettest tournament on record, the final round was played on Tuesday. Rain postponed the first round and hail and snow postponed the second round in 1971, and players were forced to finish the last two rounds on Monday.

LARGEST PURSE INCREASE

1999’s Tournament brought the largest single-year purse increase in the history of Tucson’s Tournament. $750,000 was added to the purse bringing the total purse to $2,750,000 for the 1999 Touchstone Energy Tucson Open.

TOTAL EARNINGS RECORD

With his tie for 14th finish in the 2006 Chrysler Classic of Tucson, Bob Tway earned $52,500 and goes down in history as the tournament’s leading money winner with $937, 112.

*Previously StarPass; name changed to Starr Pass in 1993.

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Tucson Conquistadores Foundation

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The First Tee of Tucson

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Volunteers

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Board of Directors

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Tournament Leadership

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Tucson Open History

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Chronology (PDF)

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Tournament Records (PDF)

 
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Tournaments & Tucson Conquistadores Events (PDF)

 
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Memories Poster (PDF)

 
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