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Phoenix Open reaching out to Hispanic community

The Waste Management Phoenix Open is committed to reaching out to the Hispanic community. Carlos Sugich, the first ever Hispanic chairman of the tournament, created a Spanish-language Web site for the Open. (Photo by Jacob Janower/Cronkite News)

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Carlos Sugich saw a golden opportunity to represent the Hispanic community at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Sugich, the first ever Hispanic chairman of the tournament, wanted to expand the reach toward the demographic and opted to create a Spanish-language website for the Phoenix Open.

“What happened was that we thought there was a need so that we could reach a broader audience to have a website available in Spanish,” Sugich said. “We are probably one of the few tournaments out there to have this website in Spanish, so I think it is something new and the idea is to communicate with as much people as possible and reach out to the Spanish community.”

Known as “The Greatest Show on Grass,” the tournament is in a prime location to appeal to the Spanish-speaking community. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 31 percent of the population in Arizona is Hispanic. In addition, the tournament attracts many fans from south of the border.

“I truly see that golf is great for kids, families, and the more the families learn what golf does for their kids, the more they will be involved in the sport,” special events coordinator Omar Alvarez said. “It’s a sport that at one point was limited to a certain demographic, but now it’s open.”

Hispanics account for 18 percent of the nation’s population but only 11.8 percent of all golfers, according to a National Golf Foundation study.

Increased awareness could have an economic impact, too. Spending by the Hispanic community is on the rise, according to the 20th edition of the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s “DATOS: The State of Arizona’s Hispanic Market” report. Latinos in the state spent $38.3 billion in 2014 and projected to spend $49.2 billion in 2019.

Alvarez and Sugich, both of whom are Thunderbirds, which is the charitable group behind the Phoenix Open, hope that the website is just one step in continuing to grow the game with Hispanics.

The Thunderbirds are involved in First Tee and Junior Golf, two opportunities that are aimed at welcoming more Hispanic children into golf.

“We have seen a lot of new players on the tour and new players are trying to break onto the tour,” Alvarez said. “There is a lot of family and kid involvement throughout our community and our initiatives.”

Just four golfers from Spanish-speaking countries are in the top 100 in the World Golf Ranking, headlined by Arizona State alum Jon Rahm and Sergio Garcia, who both hail from Spain.

Fabian Gomez, an Argentinian who is a part of this year’s field, has used social media to connect to young fans of the game and make his mark in the Hispanic golf community.

“I make a lot of donations and (play) tournaments with kids in Argentina,” Gomez said through a translator. “I played also in Argentina and South America to try to get the kids involved.”

The presence of some players on the PGA Tour has been another big reason why the sport has attracted those in Spanish-speaking countries, Sugich said.

“Obviously I think there are a lot of Hispanic players out there, so I think there is interest, not just for living in the U.S., but it becomes an international tournament,” he said. “The idea is to reach people in Mexico and Central and South America as well.”

Feedback on the website have been positive, Sugich said. The PGA saw it as a great idea and an effective way to increase the tournament’s reach in the Hispanic community.

“We have a lot of partners and every single one of them is interested in collaborating and having the Hispanic community be a part of the tournament and not only part of the tournament but part of their companies,” Alvarez said. “Ford, one of our main sponsors, has really pushed hard for us to get involved in the community and not only in the tournament but elsewhere in our First Tee programs and Junior Golf.”

Going forward, Sugich is optimistic that the new website will be a major stepping stone for the Phoenix Open to take initiative in making the game of golf even more popular among Hispanics.

“The word is going to get out and more people are going to visit us and I think we are going to have a better turnout as well,” Sugich said. “I think we are going to spark the interest of people all over the state and all over the country.”