By Greg Macafee
The Grand Canyon isn’t the only famous hole in Arizona. Every winter, a certain hole in Scottsdale gets surrounded by tens of thousands of screaming people who drink beer and loudly boo and cheer on the cue of giant LED lights telling them to “Make Some Noise.” Sometimes they get flipped off by professional athletes. Sometimes they make it rain plastic cups, like they did 20 years ago when an upstart golfer named Tiger Woods took a nine iron out of his bag and hit a hole-in-one.
Welcome to the 16th hole at the Tournament Players Golf Club, one of many reasons the Waste Management Phoenix Open is called the “Great Show on Grass.”
On Monday, January 29, this storied and exciting tournament will return for the 83rd time. First played in 1932, the Open is the fifth-oldest tournament on the PGA tour. And this year, it’s getting some upgrades and continuing to give back to the community that supports it.
Given the party-like atmosphere of the tournament—elevated by several grandstands and luxury boxes throughout the 18-hole, 7,266-yard course—it’s not surprising it’s such a highly attended event. It’s the best-attended event in golf, in fact, drawing around half a million people every year. Last year, The Waste Management Phoenix Open set a PGA Tour and Phoenix Open single-day record with 201,003 fans in attendance on Saturday, and set a tournament week attendance record of 618,365 people.
And it doesn’t plan to stop growing anytime soon.
“There’s always something new for everyone,” says 2018 tournament chairman Carlos Sugich. “Whether that’s for the sponsors or the fans.”
This year, they plan to add a lot to the course, starting with a new corporate Cove 17 on the south side of the 17th fairway. The new addition will include 60 suites, two bar areas and an expansive, brand-new patio. They are also adding close to 650 general admission seats on 17, which Sugich said will add a lot more energy to the 332-yard par four.
That’s not the only new addition to the course. Sugich said they will also be adding a craft beer house on the west side of the 7th hole, and a cantina with terrific views of the golf on the 12th hole.
And then there is the legendary 16th hole, one of the most exciting holes in golf and a coveted spot for cocktail-sipping spectators. It offers a stadium-like atmosphere not found anywhere else in the sport, which is why there’s often a line of people looking to nab the 3,700 general admission seats that dwarfs even most Black Friday campouts.
“(The 16th hole has) become a bucket list item for people all over the Valley and the country,” Sugich said. “It’s a signature hole.”
The 2018 tournament chairman said that popularity started in 1997 when Tiger Woods made a hole in one on the hole. While it didn’t look like it does today, surrounded by stands and luxury boxes, the hole was still a popular spot for fans.
“It started growing organically and we wanted to create something special and make it more for the fans,” Sugich said. “We wanted to have something no one expected, kind of like going to a stadium-type atmosphere.”
That’s exactly what they created. In the past, Arizona State alumnus John Rahm has donned a Pat Tillman jersey on the 163-yard par 3. Fans are also known for booing golfers when they don’t land their first shot on the green.
The Waste Management Phoenix Open is a huge economic stimulator for the Valley. The event pumped $389 million into Arizona’s economy last year. It also gives back to the community that has supported it since the beginning. In 2017, the event raised more than $10.1 million for charity and has raised more than $122 million in its 85-year history. By attending the event, fans are supporting several nonprofit organizations across the Valley, including Phoenix Children’s Hospital, St. Mary’s Food Bank, Homeward Bound and Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Phoenix.
“It’s what the Thunderbirds are all about,” Sugich says. “Our goal is to promote the Valley of the Sun through sports while assisting those in need in our community. The Waste Management Phoenix Open is a huge community event and giving back its worth all the work and effort.”
The tournament kicks off with plenty of events leading up to the first round on Thursday, February 1. There will be a Special Olympics Open at 11 a.m. Tuesday, January 30. There will also be two Pro-Am tourneys, with the Kadima Ventures Pro-Am on Monday, January 29, and the Annexus Pro-Am on Wednesday, January 31. Other events include the Phoenix Suns Charity Shot at Glory, a hole-in-one contest that takes place on the 16th hole, and the Coors Light Birds Nest concerts take place throughout the week, including performances Flo Rida, Florida Georgia Line and Chris Lane, and OneRepublic.
As for the actual tournament—which runs through Sunday, February 4—there are no guarantees. Japanese golfer Hideki Matsuyama captured the title the past two years and has placed in the top two the past three. But with top-rated players like Rickie Fowler, Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas also among the competitors, anything could happen. When it comes to sports, the results can sometimes be as exciting and unpredictable as the 16th hole itself.