By Christopher Boan
The Phoenix Open launched 87 years ago as the brainchild of Bob Goldwater Sr., offering a $500 prize to the event’s champion.
Fast-forward 10 decades, and the Waste Management Phoenix Open has become one of the mainstays on the Professional Golfers Association tour.
Last year’s tournament, which was won by Rickie Fowler, raised an event record $13.2 million for local charities, while bringing $389 million in economic impact to the local economy, according to Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business.
The tournament, which has taken on the motto, “The People’s Open,” thanks to its outsized, stadium-style galleries and hedonistic bravado, is a labor of love for members of the Thunderbirds, a local nonprofit that puts on the event.
Few understand that labor like Tim Woods, who serves as the tournament director for the 2020 tournament, which will once again be held at TPC Scottsdale from Monday, January 27, to Sunday, February 2.
Woods pointed out a few new features at this year’s tournament, such as a 36,000-square-foot pavilion, dubbed the Ridge, where general admission patrons can relax and enjoy panoramic views of several holes on the course.
“We’ve really tried to focus on how we can increase the access to the course for the general public,” Woods says. “We really wanted to elevate the experience in those venues, and to balance the hospitality side of what we do out on the course, with making sure we maintain some really cool spots for the fans.”
That sense of hospitality extends beyond the tournament itself, with the Coors Light Birds Nest concert series including acts like Miranda Lambert, G-Eazy, Dierks Bentley and Kygo spread out through the week. (See related story.)
Woods’ task is to make the event a can’t-miss occasion for golfing aficionados and the general public.
The result is a golf tournament unlike any other, with a boisterous, stadium-like grandstand on most holes.
The centerpiece of this year’s tournament, as in past years, is the 162-yard 16th hole, which is enclosed by grandstands.
That par 3 has taken on a life of its own through the years, thanks to the beer-fueled noise from the peanut gallery, which sits quite close to the action on all sides.
“Every year, it seems to kind of take on more life,” Woods says. “I’ll tell you with a bunch of pride, the Thunderbirds are a special organization. We are out attracting top talent, which is why we exist ultimately.
“We try to take care of caddies and golfers and their families, and what we have created is an environment and a culture that really makes us unique.”
Perhaps the biggest storyline heading into the 2020 event is more focused on a local favorite who won’t be in the field (Phil Mickelson), as it is on those that will tee it up in Scottsdale.
Woods addressed Mickelson’s decision, saying the ASU alum’s decision in no way generates an ill will from the event or its organizers.
“Phil needs to take care of Phil and the Mickelson family,” Woods says. “He’s been a great ambassador for the tournament. He’s been a friend of the tournament. He’s a friend of the Thunderbirds. He’s going to do what he’s got to do, and things change.
“Will he be back? I have a sneaking suspicion he will. I don’t think we’ve seen the last of him.”
Woods believes the Waste Management Phoenix Open will carry on, regardless of who is and is not in the playing field, thanks to the influx of support they’ve received over the past few decades.
“I’ve been asked the question a lot, of whether it’ll hurt,” Woods says of Mickelson’s decision. “And we go out and break another record and give more to charity. I don’t say it flippantly, I don’t take it for granted that we have the field that we have, but we’ve created something more than any other golf tournament is able to create.”
Woods’ sentiments surrounding the 2020 tournament are shared by Scott Bradley, who serves as Waste Management’s area vice president for the Four Corners region.
Bradley notes that Waste Management, through its 11-year relationship with the Phoenix Open, has been able to build great bonds within the community, thanks to the charity outreach from the company and the Thunderbirds as a whole.
Bradley and Woods share a vision of shirking the buttoned-down mentality shared by most professional golf tournaments, creating a unique atmosphere that’s welcoming to everyone.
“Together with The Thunderbirds, we are very proud of what we’ve accomplished for the benefit of the community and the environment,” Bradley says. “Many see the Waste Management Phoenix Open as a bucket-list sporting event. Waste Management sees the tournament as an unparalleled opportunity to take action; to push the envelope and demonstrate what’s possible when everyone invests in making a difference.
As North America’s largest environmental services company, we’re working for a sustainable tomorrow and use the Waste Management Phoenix Open as evidence that zero waste and recycling initiatives can and do work.”
Woods highlighted the social aspect of the tournament as being a major draw, as locals and tourists alike feel a draw to the Scottsdale course, because of what they’ve seen on television or on social media in years past.
That draw allows people of all walks of life to convene during the first weekend of February, under the bright skies of the Valley, to enjoy a week of great golf and greater company.
“It’s just something for everyone,” Woods says. “Whether you’re a CEO of a company or the receptionist, there’s something out there for everyone. And that’s what we’ve done a really good job of creating, and that’s why you want to come out to the Phoenix Open.
You’re going to see some great golf, while also having an unbelievable social experience out there.”
Waste Management Phoenix Open, TPC Scottsdale, 17020 N. Hayden Road, Scottsdale, wmphoenixopen.com, times and ticket prices vary by day.