35 years of great golf at Waste Management Phoenix Open

35 years of great golf at Waste Management Phoenix Open

By Joan Fudala

Golf came to Scottsdale in 1910 with the opening of the Ingleside Inn’s nine-hole dirt course. Golf really came to Scottsdale in January 1987 — when the TPC Scottsdale Stadium Course celebrated its first month of play and hosted the Phoenix Open golf tournament.

Thirty-five years later, the course and its world-famous tournament continue to make golf and Scottsdale history.

Here are 18 “holes” of TPC Scottsdale and Phoenix Open legend and lore:

1. The Phoenix Open began as the Arizona Open in 1932 and played at Phoenix Country Club. The then-new Phoenix Thunderbirds began hosting the annual tournament at PCC in 1937. Purses were small, and professional golfers often stayed at the homes of Thunderbirds to avoid spending their modest earnings. Between 1953 and 1973, the open alternated between Phoenix Country Club and the Arizona Country Club course, built atop of the 1910 Ingleside Inn layout. During those Arizona Country Club years, “Arnie’s Army” was thrilled to see Arnold Palmer win three consecutive years, 1961-63.

2. As the popularity of golf in general, and the Phoenix Open in particular, grew during the 1970s and early 1980s, the Thunderbirds realized that their spectator gallery had outgrown the Phoenix and Arizona country clubs. Their flat layout required spectators to use cardboard periscopes to see the play. The group hoped to build a course adjacent to the Phoenix Mountain Preserve. Negotiations for the Phoenix course fell through, but Scottsdale Mayor (and nongolfer) Herb Drinkwater saw an opportunity to build a PGA Tour course in Scottsdale and bring the tourney to his already golf-crazy community.

3. The city of Scottsdale, the PGA Tour and the Thunderbirds sealed a deal to bring a Tournament Players Club stadium course to a then-barren area of desert north of the Central Arizona Project Canal and Scottsdale Airport. It was located on land Scottsdale leased from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation that was designated for recreational use. Among the “dream team” for landing the TPC were Drinkwater, Scottsdale Councilmembers Jim Bruner and Bill Walton, Deputy City Manager Dave Harris, PGA Tour Commissioner Deane Beman and the Thunderbirds.

4. PGA tour champion Tom Weiskopf and designer Jay Morrish were selected to design the TPC Stadium Course, which featured “spectator mounds” to offer great views to tournament attendees. Ground was broken for the TPC Scottsdale in summer 1985 and the course dedicated on December 26, 1986, only weeks before the 1987 Phoenix Open teed off. One of the best aspects of the new TPC Stadium Course was that it was open for public play 51 weeks a year, all except tournament week.

5. The TPC stadium course immediately offered more room for spectators, thus helping to increase the charitable revenue the tournament generated. The first Scottsdale tournament was held January 19 to January 25, led by Thunderbird tournament director Pete Scardello and attended by a record 257,000 fans, 71,000 more than the previous year at Phoenix Country Club. PGA tour professional Paul Azinger won the 1987 tournament and recalled seeing a “wave of humanity way bigger than anything I’d ever seen on tour.”

6. Although the Thunderbirds opened a Birds Nest in 1972 by the PCC swimming pool, the Birds Nest debuted in a huge tent at the 1987 premiere Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale. Over the years, it has attracted popular bands and thousands of partiers (who may, or may not, have attended the tournament).

7. An immediate benefit to Scottsdale’s tourism and real estate industries was the national television coverage of the first and subsequent Phoenix Opens at TPC Scottsdale. Millions of golf fans have seen Scottsdale at its January/February best — green grass, the McDowell Mountains as a backdrop, and spectators enjoying a day in the sunshine. The 1987 opening of the adjacent Princess Resort also gave a boost to golf and Scottsdale tourism.

8. During the summer 1987 a second 18-hole course — named the TPC Desert Course — opened for public play adjacent to the Stadium Course. Also designed by Weiskopf and Morrish, it was completely redesigned in 2007 by Randy Heckenkemper and renamed the Champions Course. A clubhouse was added during the Champions renovation.

9. To keep it challenging and up to date, the Stadium Course has been renovated twice — in 1997 and again in 2014.

10. Prior to the start of official, four days of PGA tournament play, the Thunderbirds hold several pro-ams during open week, adding to the excitement and charitable coffers of the golf action. Up close and personal, we’ve been able to see Dean Martin; Lawrence Welk; Bing Crosby; Reggie Jackson; Glen Campbell; Bill Murray; Dan Quayle; Bob Hope; members of the Diamondbacks and Cardinals; corporate executives; and other movie, TV, business and sports celebrities mix it up on the links with PGA pros.

11. From their earliest days, the Thunderbirds wanted the tournament to raise funds to support charities throughout the Valley of the Sun, particularly those supporting youth programs. Since then, the T-birds have raised millions of dollars for charity. Scottsdale groups have been particularly blessed by the generosity of the Thunderbirds. Through their lead gift, the Friends of the Scottsdale Public Library opened Knowasis: Thunderbird Charities Teen Learning Center at the Civic Center Library in 2006. In 2001, the Thunderbird Branch of the Boys & Girls Club of Scottsdale opened in Grayhawk. ChildHelp USA, Scottsdale Prevention Institute, Scottsdale-Paradise Valley YMCA, River of Dreams, New Song Center for Grieving Children, Melonhead Foundation, Girls Ranch of Arizona, Council for Jews with Special Needs, Waste Not, ALS Association Arizona Chapter and the Partners for the Paiute Neighborhood Center are among those that have benefited from Thunderbird grants.

12. FBR became the Phoenix Open title sponsor in 2004; Waste Management took over the title sponsorship in 2010 (changing its name to WM Phoenix Open in 2021). Waste Management promotes environmental responsibility and made the Open a Zero Waste event.

13. In 1998, the Thunderbirds posthumously inducted Scottsdale Drinkwater into the Phoenix Open Hall of Fame.

14. Scottsdale resident Tom Lehman won the 2000 Phoenix Open, which was chaired by Arcadia resident Steve Matteucci. Local fan favorites have each won three times: Mark Calcavecchia (1989, 1992, 2001) and Phil Mickelson (1996, 2005, 2013).

15. In 2014, the Waste Management Phoenix Open was named PGA Tour Tournament of the Year. It was also recognized as the tournament with the “Most Engaged Community.” That year, 563,008 attended during the seven-day run, and, as they do every year, several thousand community volunteers helped the Thunderbirds stage the event. To date, the attendance record for the seven-day tournament was set in 2018 with more than 720,000 fans.

16. The 16th hole, par 3, known as “The Coliseum,” has become the most famous hole in the golf tour. Thousands of enthusiastic (rowdy) fans cheer players on to ace it, as Tiger Woods did in 1997 (called “the shot heard round the world”).

17. The global COVID-19 pandemic reduced the crowd size for the 2021 tourney; Brooks Koepka won, repeating his 2015 win.

18. The WM Phoenix Open 2022 is set for February 7 to February 13. Saturday, February 12, is the “All Day Green Out” when all attendees are encouraged to wear green to support the eco-sensitive goals of the tournament. The purse is $8.2 million with the winner’s share pegged at $1.476 million — a bit higher than the first Phoenix Open when the winner pocketed a mere $600.

“Fore” sure, Scottsdale loves the TPC Scottsdale, the Waste Management Phoenix Open, the Thunderbirds and the thousands of fans who enjoy what the T-birds call “The Greatest Show on Grass.”

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