As golf takes center stage, ASU continues preparations for NCAA championships

Scottsdale’s Grayhawk golf course is set to host the NCAA championships in 2020-22. (Photo by Brady Vernon/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – As five former Arizona State golfers compete on an international stage at the British Open, their alma mater is preparing for its own big event.

ASU will host both the men’s and women’s NCAA Division I golf championships at Grayhawk Golf Club for the next three years, a competition that has helped shape the success of the sport’s best. Just six weeks after winning the NCAA individual title with Oklahoma State, for example, Matthew Wolff won the 3M Open in Minnesota on July 7.

The Sun Devils have a rich history of golf that is playing out in Northern Ireland. Jon Rahm was one of the early leaders Thursday at the British Open. Other former ASU golfers in the elite field include Paul Casey, Chez Reavie, Chan Kim, and, of course, Phil Mickelson, who won the event in 2013.

The Sun Devils were thrilled to land the NCAA championships, but it wasn’t an easy process. Venue selection process can be grueling.

“Venue recommendation by the bidding NCAA host conference or member institution is a basic requirement during the bid process,” said Carol Reep, the NCAA’s Associate Director, Championships and Alliances. “The selection of Arizona State University as the host institution for the 2020-2022 NCAA Division I Men’s and Women’s Golf Championships at Grayhawk Golf Club was completed through the last NCAA comprehensive and competitive bid cycle, where more than 600 sites were selected for hosting preliminary rounds and finals sites for predetermined championships from 2018-2022, in Divisions I, II and III.

“The NCAA Division I men’s and Division I women’s golf committees considered and evaluated the different bids received from conferences/institutions for hosting regionals and finals sites for each of the four years noted above and then advanced their recommendations to the Division I Competition Oversight Committee for final approval.”

Similar to the golfers that practice every day from a young age in an attempt to hoist a title, ASU has prepared for years in hopes of hosting the championship.

“We actually had put in a bid previously, so we worked with Grayhawk – I want to say it was 2015 – and put in a bid for the 2016 national championship,” said J.D. Loudabarger, ASU Associate Athletic Director. Operations & Facilities. “We’ve been trying to get this championship for some time now. The relationship (with Grayhawk) was already built there. When we found out they were potentially doing another bid site goal with multiple years, we quickly got back together again.”

Arizona State men’s and women’s teams will have essentially home field advantage when they take the grass in 2020. The likes of top amauter Chun An Yu and 2019 Pac-12 Individual Champion Olivia Mehaffey will compete for a chance to celebrate a possible national title in their backyard. For a part of ASU, the celebration already occurred.

“The whole group is really excited,” Loudabarger said. “The Thunderbirds, it promotes their brand. Grayhawk is excited because they’re going to host a major championship on the course. Obviously, the university is excited to bring this to the Valley and bring it to the community. There’s absolutely a little bit of celebration.”

However, Loudabarger said, the staff is like a golfer winning a major. After the final putt, you can soak in the win, but quickly after it’s time to get back to work.

“We all know it doesn’t last long,” Loudabarger said. “We have a big championship we have to put together and make an absolutely great experience for student athletes. This is a once in a lifetime deal for the student athletes, who have worked for this their entire life to play in this championship. And we just want to make that experience as great as possible.”

The ASU women’s team has won eight national championships and has had five individual champions. The Sun Devils men’s team has won two national championships and six individual titles with Mickelson notching three of them in 1989, 1990 and 1992.

From snowbirds to pros, everyone can find a course in Arizona. Ranked as the second-best state for golf by, Arizona has many golf paradises throughout the state. Scottsdale, already the host of “The Greatest Show on Grass,” better known as the Waste Management Phoenix Open, will add another event to its resume.

“The Phoenix area and the Scottsdale community specifically is considered by many as one of the prime and most prestigious golf locations in the country for hosting and playing golf tournaments year-round,” Reep said.

“Couple that fact with the extensive and highly successful history of the Raptor Course at Grayhawk Golf Club hosting elite-level championships events, along with the expertise that the Arizona State University staff and the Thunderbirds will bring to the championships from an event-management perspective should result in three years of outstanding championship experience for the student-athletes, coaches and spectators.”

For as accessible as the area is for golf, one common concern is shared for those thinking about two tournaments in late May and early June: the heat. The Phoenix area, famous for its incredible weather for most of the year, tends to have 100 degree days during that time.

Both Reep and Loudabarger believe the weather is more fear than reality.

“People that compete in the sport of golf understand that part of any competition is negotiating and managing the weather conditions each day you tee it up and compete – whether they be high winds, extended periods of rain or other types of weather conditions as well, such as low and high temperatures,” Reep said.

“Certainly, it can heat up in Arizona by the end of May, but we believe our hosts and the course will be ready to assist with managing this element, given their vast and successful experience in hosting other golf tournaments this time of year.”

Loudabarger added this about the weather issue: “It’s our greatest asset and as well as potentially (our) greatest challenge for us. It is one of the reasons I believe the NCAA was really interested in coming to the Valley because if you look at the past three or four years at cities they’ve been they’ve had to deal with a lot of water, a lot of weather delays, lightning, some potential tornado threats.

“Obviously, we don’t have that issue here. To be able to have a championship that can be played throughout, we should be in a great spot. You can always deal with heat, but you can’t get on the course if there’s lightning or tornadoes.”

The weather is only one factor that helped place three years of the collegiate game’s best golfers in Scottsdale. Loudabarger believes that the biggest difference in this bid for ASU was its efforts in getting third parties involved. The attempt of adding the community along with the help of The Thunderbirds, who are known for their work with the Phoenix Open, seemed to seal the deal with the university.

For Loudabarger and the entirety of the ASU staff, the work has only begun before the first tee shot on May 22, 2020, when the women’s tournament kicks off at Grayhawk Golf Club. It is just the start of what they hope will be three incredible years of NCAA championship experience.

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