Waste Management Phoenix Open chairman Andy Markham contends that Scottsdale is a great golf town. His tournament builds on that belief by bringing tourists and Arizonans alike to enjoy golf, food and music Monday, January 30 to Monday, February 6.
“We provide a really great time and have incredible corporate and municipal partners,” Markham says. “The event brings people out in droves. It is the place to be in the Southwest at that time of year.”
Now in its 31st year at TPC, the Waste Management Phoenix Open has a long and storied history of phenomenal golf dating back to the 1930s.
“The event was started by the Thunderbirds, a local community organization, to promote the Valley of Sun through sports,” Markham says. “Through the years, it became a hit with celebrities, golf professionals and fans.”
That is an understatement, as Markham anticipates that the 2017 event, dubbed the “The Greatest Show on Grass,” will draw record crowds of more than 600,000—despite a conflict.
“The final round of the tournament will again fall on Super Bowl Sunday,” Markham says. “That makes for a good, fun and festive week.”
The roster of past winners is a who’s who of golfing legends including Arnold Palmer, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus and Johnny Miller. In the TPC era, greats such as Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh and Tom Lehman have prevailed. In recent years, the next generation of talent has hoisted the championship trophy, with last year’s victor 24-year-old Hideki Matsuyama.
“We want patrons to have the opportunity to see the best players in the world,” says Markham, who is a Thunderbird. “We are going to continue to see a great field this year.”
That great field includes last year’s sixth-place finisher Will Wilcox.
“I’ll remember that week last year for the rest of my life for a few reasons,” Wilcox says. “First, it’s not often when you get to play in front of a crowd that makes you feel like you’re a quarterback in the Super Bowl or pitcher in the World Series. You definitely get that feeling at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. That crowd is incredible and so into it. I was also putting so well that week last year. I finished seventh in putting distance. The greens were great. It was just an overall great week and I’m thrilled to have finished inside the top 10.”
Attendees understand that there is more to the Phoenix Open than golf; the atmosphere is a compelling draw. Whether it is the Coors Light Birds Nest, the event’s music series, or the electrifying Par 3 16th hole that defines energy and passion for raucous and perfervid fans, the emotion is palpable throughout tournament week.
“This year, the Birds Nest over four days will have eight headliner acts,” Markham says. “2017 will have six expanded skybox areas around the 15th and 16th holes and 350 new bleacher seats. We also will enlarge the 2016 Bay Club area.”
The environment has become more vibrant since Tiger Woods’ famous 16th hole ace in 1997. Incredible noise and energy flowed down from the stands.
“We are very careful to balance the golf with the party fun,” Markham says. “We have great fans and we make sure that everyone has a good time and a few attendees do not ruin it for everyone.”
It seems that there is no stopping the momentum of the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Each year the Thunderbirds, sponsors and partners outdo themselves to provide the world’s best golfers with the canvas to dazzle patrons, while also catering to guests who want the entire entertainment experience.
“In the last five years, we have expanded the 16th hole skyboxes from 240 to 270,” Markham says. “I wish I had a crystal ball to tell you what the event will look like in the next five years. Our team gets creative and when there is demand we will figure out the supply.”
One such interesting evolution could potentially be the addition of the adjacent Champions Course to the tournament to broaden the player field and enliven the Pro-Am.
“We are considering that in the future,” Markham says. “For now, though we thought that would not be fair today for our patrons and sponsors.”
It is not just the fans who win at the annual event. In 2016, the Thunderbirds raised $9.3 million for charities, making the total amount of $111 million over the life of the tournament, according to its website.
Fantastic golf, music and energy mark the Waste Management Phoenix Open. “This is the people’s open,” Markham says. “We have great fans, a great tourney, great weather and a great time.”
– Tim J. Randall, The Entertainer! Magazine