The 16th hole. The Birds Nest. Phil Mickelson. Tiger’s hole-in-one. Excitement. “The Greatest Show on Grass”. What do all of these things have in common? They are synonymous with the Waste Management Phoenix Open, one of the most exciting sporting events that converges on the Valley of the Sun each year and is one of the must-attend events for people not just in the Phoenix area, but from all across the country.
The 2016 Waste Management Phoenix Open is set to tee it up Feb. 1-7 at the TPC Scottsdale, and while the tournament lasts only one week, the people behind the scenes work throughout the year to put on this exciting PGA TOUR golf tournament.
Each year a champion is crowned and the tournament is put to bed, but when that final putt drops it doesn’t mean that the tournament organizers behind the scenes wrap it up, sit back and wait another year to put on the Waste Management Phoenix Open. It’s a year-round undertaking to put on an event of this stature, hosted by a Phoenix civic organization made up of everyday business leaders who not only want to put on the best golf event in the world, but want to contribute to and give back to the community.
That organization is called The Thunderbirds, and they are made up of 55 “active” members who are 45 years of age and under, and more than 250 “life” members. You might recognize them as the guys who wear the blue robes and beaded necklaces during tournament week. Actually those robes are called tunics, the traditional and most recognized uniform of The Thunderbirds, and the necklace is an imitation of the Thunderbird logo with silver and turquoise beads that recognize exemplary service to the organization.
The Waste Management Phoenix Open is the best-attended PGA TOUR event in the world, and broke its own weekly attendance record last year when 564,368 fans embarked on the TPC Scottsdale to watch the world’s best golfers. While that number is staggering, there are two other records that were broken that didn’t receive much fanfare but are much more impactful to Arizona charities.
All proceeds raised from the WM Phoenix Open are donated to local charities, and the 2015 tournament raised an astonishing 9,060,731, the largest amount raised by the host Thunderbirds in the 80-year history of the tournament. To put the icing on the cake, the $9 million-plus helped The Thunderbirds eclipse the $100 million mark of charitable giving throughout the organization’s history. That’s $102,418,934 all going to those in need in the community.
“Each and every year is special when we make the announcement of how much money we raised for charity, but this year was extra special and truly a proud moment for The Thunderbirds,” said Danny Calihan, President of Thunderbirds Charities and Tournament Chairman for the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open. “We had our eye on reaching the $100 million mark last year, and to reach that milestone by breaking our own single-year record was spectacular.”
Money raised by The Thunderbirds through the Waste Management Phoenix Open have benefitted a wide array of charities, such as the Boys and Girls Clubs across the Valley, Homeward Bound, Make-A-Wish Foundation, SAARC and many more.
Most recently, The Thunderbirds announced a record $500,000 donation to Phoenix Children’s Hospital to support the building of a new Pediatric Emergency Department and Level 1 Pediatric Trauma Center. The donation was the largest single handout by Thunderbirds Charities since its inception in 1937.
“This is why we do what we do, why we spend time away from our families and our jobs,” said Dan Mahoney, Tournament Chairman for the 2016 Waste Management Phoenix Open. “It is humbling to know how many lives we can help by hosting this golf event, and seeing how much this affects those in need in our community creates a great sense of pride among the entire organization.”
Mahoney will have his work cut out for him following a record setting 2015 tournament. In his defense, though, there won’t be a Super Bowl in town to help attract the masses – both years the Super Bowl was played in Glendale (2008, 2015) saw record setting attendance and charitable dollars raised.
“We don’t compete on a personal level, but obviously we want to match or exceed what the previous tournament chairman did,” Mahoney said. “Danny Calihan did a fantastic job last year, and I think we would have achieved those numbers even without the Super Bowl in town. My goal this year is to put on the best event possible for the fans, and raise as much money as we can for charity.”
Each year the Waste Management Phoenix Open has a new tournament chairman, and each year that chairman wants to put his own footprint on the event. Mahoney’s biggest change this year will be to completely revamp the 17th hole, moving the skyboxes and suites closer to the action while creating a high-end, luxurious environment.
“Obviously 16 is our signature hole, and what the Waste Management Phoenix Open is most known for, but why not have another unique venue option,” Mahoney said. “We are moving the fans closer to the action on this exciting hole and offering an upscale atmosphere that has never been seen before at this tournament.”
The Corporate Village tents will be removed to make way for the Bay Club, an upscale, luxury hospitality venue that will feature formal wait staffs, an upscale lounge area and furnishings that resemble a five-star resort. Overlooking the 17th fairway and green, the Bay Club offers fantastic views of the drivable par 4, along with a viewing area to catch the action on hole 10. Bay Club guests also have access to the popular Greenskeeper venue.
“The reaction to these new hospitality options on 17 has been fantastic,” Mahoney said. “Bay Club on 17 has been on a wait list since the summer, and the other options have been selling fast as well. This is definitely going to be one of the places to be at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.”
While the atmosphere at 17 will be changing, the famed 16th hole will still be the same raucous environment that has made it one of the most iconic and unique holes on the PGA TOUR. The stadium setting features more than 250 skyboxes and 5,000 general-admission seats that can hold more than 15,000 screaming fans.
The Waste Management Phoenix Open golf tournament will be played Thursday – Sunday (February 4-7), but there will still be plenty of things to see and do at TPC Scottsdale all week long. Thanks to Ford, the official car sponsor of the Waste Management Phoenix Open, all fans get in free for practice rounds on Monday, February 1 and Tuesday, February 2, thanks to Ford Free Days. Other events to check out include the Monday Pro-Am on Monday, the R.S. Hoyt Jr. Family Foundation Dream Day and Outfront Media Special Olympics Open on Tuesday, and the ever-popular Annexus Pro-Am and Shot at Glory on Wednesday. On Saturday, Feb. 6, officials will once again encourage everyone to participate in the sixth-annual GREEN OUT. Waste Management and The Thunderbirds encourage players and fans to wear green in support of the many green/sustainability initiatives that the company is doing to make the event not just the greenest tournament on the PGA TOUR, but one of the most charitable as well. For every person who wears green on Saturday, The Thunderbirds will donate “green” back to local charities.
As if that isn’t enough going on, when the last putt drops and the sun goes down at TPC Scottsdale things heat up across the street at the Coors Light Birds Nest, a four-night music fest Wednesday – Saturday that attracts some of the biggest names in music and entertainment spanning all musical genres.
One week a year the PGA TOUR turns up the volume at the GREATEST SHOW ON GRASS – see for yourself at the 2016 Waste Management Phoenix Open. For more information or tickets visit www.wmphoenixopen.com.
By Ryan Woodcock