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How the Phoenix Open became “The Greatest Show on Grass”

How the Phoenix Open became “The Greatest Show on Grass”

How the Phoenix Open became "The Greatest Show on Grass"

From its quiet beginnings in 1932, the iconic Phoenix Open stood the test of time. 87 years later, the golf tournament now fondly known as “The Greatest Show on Grass,” is still steadily growing year after year. We dug up a bit of history to fill you in on how this tournament started and how it became the spectacle it is today!

The original Phoenix Open was played at the Phoenix Country Club in 1932, but was discontinued in 1935 due to lack of local support. Fortunately, Bob Goldwater, Sr. had the wherewithal, energy and vision to bring the tournament back to the Valley in 1939. He even convinced a few of his friends, the Thunderbirds to help him bring this vision back to life. In order to help others see his vision, in invited a few of his famous friends to tee it up at the tournament. Those friends were none other than Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Ben Hogan. Byron Nelson was the talented young up-and-comer that took the win and the $700 first place prize at the 1939 Phoenix Open with Hogan finishing 12 shots back of Nelson in second place. The Thunderbirds have sponsored the event ever since with the exception of 1943 when wartime travel restrictions forced a hiatus.

in 1955, the Phoenix Open was moved to the Arizona Country Club and then was played on an alternating schedule with the Phoenix Country Club every other year. In 1975, the Phoenix Country Club took Arizona Country Clubs turn to host and the event remained at the Phoenix Country Club until 1987.

By 1986, the tournament had outgrown its roots at the Phoenix Country Club and needed a more spacious course for spectators. After examining many courses and discussing possible revisions to courses like Papago, Scottsdale Mayor Herb Drinkwater suggested that a course be built where the The Players Club of Scottsdale stands today. Despite the fact that many people thought the location was “in the boonies”, all parties agreed that the land would be the perfect place for a stadium type course to be built where every spectator would have a perfect view of the tournament. Construction on The Players Club of Scottsdale (TPC Scottsdale) began in January of 1986 and the Phoenix Open was held there the following year. TPC Scottsdale has been the home of the Phoenix Open ever since.

Over the years the Phoenix Open has grown from a fledgling little golf tournament championed by Bob Goldwater to a massive event bringing in over 700,000 people per week. There were 186,000 people in attendance for the last Phoenix Open held at the Phoenix Country Club.

Prior to 1971, the Phoenix Open was a seemingly another no-name tournament stop on the West Coast swing of the PGA Tour. Run by a group of guys known as the Thunderbirds and boasting no big named players, the Phoenix Open was not the event it is today. In 1971, the chairman of the Phoenix Open convinced Arnold Palmer to come and play. Arnold’s request back to the chairman? To play in the ProAm with Dell Webb, Bob Goldwater and Bob Hope. Luckily, they were able to make that happen. With current big name players such as Hideki Matsuyama, Xander Schauffele and Bubba Watson on the docket for 2020, it’s hard to conceive of a time when this tournament had to beg big name players to attend.

Now you might be wondering just how the 16th hole became so popular. That, my friends, is thanks to one man: Tiger Woods. When Woods made a hole in one at the 16th in 1997, there were a few tents around the hole, but no bleachers or stadium seating. As the hole drew more and more attention, organizers realized that they could capitalize on this popularity by adding stadium seating. Currently, the 16th hole can hold at least 15,000 spectators around one tiny par three.

Add in “energy” also known as alcohol and live music performed by some of the most popular acts in the country at the evening entertainment known as the Birds Nest and you have a recipe for success my friends! If you haven’t experienced “The Greatest Show on Grass,” we urge you to attend at least once. It is definitely an experience you won’t soon forget!

The 2020 Waste Mgmt Phoenix Open will be held at the TPC Scottsdale 1/27/20-2/2/20. Click here for more information on tee times as well as ticket information. 

Share your favorite memories from the Phoenix Open with us in the comments below!