Music, Food, Gambling, And Golf Make Up The WM Phoenix Open Experience

phoenix open
The views from the 16th hole at the WM Phoenix Open in Scottsdale. (Photo by Susan Wong/Cronkite News)

By Lucas Gordon

PHOENIX – Organizers of the WM Phoenix Open know that not all of the fans who pour into the TPC Scottsdale for their PGA Tour event are there to wander the rolling course and watch golf.

Through the years, the sponsoring Phoenix Thunderbirds have managed to continue adding new events and activities for those looking for entertainment beyond the leaderboard. From food and drink to music to sports wagering, the tournament offers something for just about everybody.

Since the tournament moved to TPC Scottsdale from the Phoenix Country Club in 1987, it has developed a reputation for being the most fan-friendly venue on the PGA Tour. The “Greatest Show on Grass” has continued to evolve in ways that make the fan experience enjoyable, whether those fans are there to watch great golf or something more.

“We like to challenge ourselves to see how we can get the venue to change from year to year,” said Pat Williams, the tournament chairman for this year’s Phoenix Open. “We’re happy that the community comes out every year and supports us.”

Every year the tournament puts on two pro-ams as part of its pre-tournament festivities.

The Carlisle Pro-Am played on Monday allows fans to play among their favorite PGA professionals. The Annexus Pro-Am on Wednesday features local celebrities playing amongst professional golfers and sponsors of the tournament. This year’s field includes former Cardinals star Larry Fitzgerald, Olympian Michael Phelps and recently retired Cardinals pass rusher J.J. Watt.

The highlight of the Annexus Pro-Am comes at the end of the day with the “Shot of Glory.” The celebrities and sponsors get a chance to tee off at the famous par-3 16th “Stadium” hole in the name of charity. The players who put their ball closest to the pin will win money for whichever charity they choose.

“The pro-ams are a great way to come out and see the golf course when it’s a little bit less crowded, but on Wednesday, we’re expecting to see over 100,000 fans,” Williams said.

Golf fan Craig Grotenhouse has attended the tournament six times throughout the past years and likes the idea of being able to watch celebrities play golf.

“I think the pro-am is a lot of fun because the pros are much more laid back and easy to access. If you’re going for other activities, you may want to go later in the afternoon for concerts and such because they are much attended,” Grotenhouse said.

Another tournament tradition is the Coors Light Birds Nest, which started modestly during the Phoenix Country Club years with local bands and even some PGA Tour players providing music in an entertainment tent.

It has evolved into a major concert event on the TPC grounds.

This year the Birds Nest features platinum recording artists, The Chainsmokers, Machine Gun Kelly and Jason Aldean during a four-day-long concert series.

“We realized there was a demand for entertainment after the golf ended. It’s been a tradition to have the Birds Nest for 50-plus years,” said Williams. “Since we moved to Scottsdale, we were able to build another venue on the campus to keep people entertained as well as providing another revenue source.”

More recently, the sponsoring Phoenix Thunderbirds have expanded the musical calendar to include a concert at the 16th hole, utilizing the stadium and luxury suites that are constructed around the short hole.

Dubbed “Concert in the Coliseum,” the event is back for its second year with Maroon 5 headlining. Country star Walker Hayes will open for the pop band at the Feb. 4 show.

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A new addition coming to the WM Phoenix Open is a DraftKings sportsbook that is under construction at TPC Scottsdale. It is expected to be completed in time for next year’s tournament and will be the first on-location sportsbook at a PGA Tour event.

“As part of the PGA’s partnership with DraftKings, Draftkings was given the choice to open one sportsbook at any tournament they wanted and decided to pick our tournament,” Williams said.

The decision makes sense because the tournament generates the largest crowds on the PGA Tour. While organizers no longer track official attendance, the event has drawn more than 700,000 fans in the past for the pro-ams and tournament play, regularly exceeding 200,000 for Saturday rounds. The sportsbook will provide another spot for fans to eat, drink, place wagers or just people watch while attending the event.

Outside of the tournament grounds, fans can enjoy additional entertainment in Scottsdale that is scheduled because of the Super Bowl, which falls on the same day in Glendale as the WM Phoenix Open final round in Scottsdale.

In Historic Old Town Scottsdale, ESPN is hosting a tailgate on Main Street, where the set will be located for all of the network’s studio shows during most of Super Bowl week. Fans can gather in the area and grab drinks, play lawn games or watch the shows live.

“ESPN was in Scottsdale in 2008 and 2015, and we’re welcoming them back again this year,” said Karen Churchard, the Director of Tourism and Events for the City of Scottsdale. “They will be there daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. from February 8 until February 13.”

Of course, with Super Bowl events and the game in town at the same time that the golf tournament and pro-ams are underway, driving will be a challenge, especially for those people trying to navigate the Scottsdale area to reach TPC Scottsdale.

Churchard recommends that people remain patient as construction blocks roads and routes throughout Scottsdale.

“Our (information technology) team is going to be working with Waze and Google and Apple Maps to make sure everything is up to date so we can try to get people around,” Churchard said.

Overall, the organizers of the Waste Management Phoenix Open aim to get people out to the course and entertain them.

Whether it’s golf, music, gambling or just people watching, those who attend “The People’s Open” are bound to be entertained while supporting a tournament and it’s surrounding events that annually pump millions of dollars into Valley charities.

“It allows us further opportunity to sell tickets and concessions that ultimately go to charitable (giving), which is what it’s all about for us,” Williams said.

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