No masks, no distancing: WM Phoenix Open excited for return to normal

The WM Phoenix Open is expecting big crowds this week thanks to a no-restrictions event as well as ideal weather. (Photo by Wesley Johnson/Cronkite News)

Billy Horschel practices on the TPC Scottsdale driving range prior to hitting the course for the first time this week, on Monday. (Photo by Amanda Valle/Cronkite News)

WM Phoenix Open Chairman Michael Golding said he is grateful the tournament is returning to its old form and pointed to the 200 acres of open air. The pro competition tees off Thursday. (Photo by Wesley Johnson/Cronkite News)

PING golfer sets up put after his first shot at the famous 16th hole at TPC Scottsdale on Monday. (Photo by Amanda Valle/Cronkite News)

Tour pro Wyndham Clark called last year’s Phoenix Open “weird” and said “for one year it was nice to play the course without all of the craziness, but we’re all super excited to have the craziness back.” (Photo by Wesley Johnson/Cronkite News)

SCOTTSDALE – The 2021 WM Phoenix Open was played under the umbrella of COVID-19 restrictions and severely limited crowds, but this year’s tournament will be restriction-free.

“The People’s Open” is used to seeing waves of fans storm the iconic 16th hole and other fairways of TPC Scottsdale. WM Phoenix Open Chairman Michael Golding and his staff of Thunderbirds are looking forward to welcoming a large crowd back to TPC Scottsdale.

“We worked with the PGA Tour, the city of Scottsdale and the state of Arizona, and we have no restrictions,” Golding said. “We have 200 acres of open air. Every venue on the course is an outdoor venue. There’s plenty of room for people to roam around. We’re expecting a fun and safe event.”

The players missed the fans, too. Their annual trip to the Valley is a popular one among golfers. Although last year provided a different experience that they appreciated, they prefer the loud crowds at TPC Scottsdale.

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“Last year was weird,” PGA Tour golfer Wyndham Clark said. “I think for one year it was nice to play the course without all of the craziness, but we’re all superexcited to have the craziness back. It’s part of the reason we all love to play the event because you have a couple hundred-thousand people watching you and they’re going nuts.”

This won’t be the first rodeo at TPC Scottsdale for tour veteran Bill Haas. He’s excited to play in front of the big, boisterous crowds again.

“I think the fans are going to be as rowdy as they’ve ever been,” Haas said. “The energy you get from the crowd is second to none. There’s no tournament like it.”

The limited capacity last year did provide the opportunity to prepare longer for this year’s WM Phoenix Open. The Thunderbirds found several ways to improve the fan experience for both general admission and those willing to go the extra mile for their viewing experience.

These changes started with the stadium hole at 16, a par 3. The venue underwent more changes this year than it ever did over the course of a year, Golding said. New bars and boxes in addition to changes to general admission seating to the right of the green are part of the makeover.

The most unusual addition is the 1937 Club at the 18th green. What used to be open seating on grass is now a creative viewing opportunity.

“The 1937 Club is an elevated fan experience at our clubhouse,” Golding said. “It’s a brand new change that we’re thrilled about because we needed to elevate the fan experience on the 18th hole. It’s one of the best finishing holes in all of golf, so it deserves a viewing experience to fit it.”

General admission fans can find some seating at the 1937 Club, but it’s primarily full of boxes that engulf the final hole. The one spot that isn’t exclusive to TPC Scottsdale is the Taylor Morrison Fairway House along 12, which is a 6,000 square foot hospitality venue for general admission fans.

“It’s the best place on the course to go view golf,” Golding said.

Although it’s fun just to be at the WM Phoenix Open, the quality of golf is always strong. Golding thinks the 2022 field of players is the best in Phoenix Open history.

Fans also get to see birdies and eagles regularly, as it’s typically one of the lower-scoring events on the tour. The past 10 winners of the Phoenix Open averaged more than 18 strokes under par after their four rounds. However, golfers don’t expect the scoring to be as low this week.

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“I played here four weeks ago and the greens were supersoft,” Clark said. “With the good weather that we’re going to have, I bet it’s going to be really firm and really fast. I imagine that if it gets firm and fast, the scores might not be as low as they normally are.”

Clark, a Scottsdale resident, says the Phoenix Open is his favorite tournament of the year. Getting to play in front of his friends and the rowdy crowds is something he looks forward to every year.

“I get to sleep in my own bed and know all the restaurants and where to go,” Clark said. “For me, winning a major or the Players Championship would be the only events I’d rather win than this one.”

In addition to the golf and the fun, the Phoenix Open raises a significant amount of money for charities around metro Phoenix. Although they can be spotted sporting their velvet tunics this week at TPC Scottsdale, the Thunderbirds, a nonprofit organization, spend the year dispersing the proceeds to such charities as Phoenix Children’s Hospital, Boys & Girls Clubs and First Tee-Phoenix.

Ticket-price increases and expensive clubs and boxes around the course can be discouraging for some fans, Golding said, but those proceeds transform lives.

“The secret sauce of the Thunderbirds is that we are all here to improve and compete and we work to improve this event every year so that we can generate more money for the community,” he said. “Giving back is the most important thing. I’m certainly excited to say that we are confident that we expect to give over $10 million.”

Given the partying nature at the Phoenix Open, rideshare programs have become a priority for the Thunderbirds. A bus to Westworld of Scottsdale will take fans to their preferred rideshare program.

The celebrity pro-am tees off on Wednesday with the tournament beginning Thursday morning. Will Brooks Koepka defend his title, or will another golfer hear the roar from the tournament calls the “best fans in golf?”

Dominic Stearn doh-mih-nihk stern
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Dominic Stearn expects to graduate in May 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. Stearn, who writes and podcasts for East Village Times and has interned with Sports360AZ, is working for the Phoenix sports bureau.

Sports Visual Journalist, Phoenix

Wesley Johnson expects to graduate in May 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. Johnson, who has interned as a digital editor and social media manager at Arizona PBS, is working for the Phoenix sports bureau.

Amanda Valle(she/her/hers)
Sports Digital Producer, Phoenix

Amanda Valle expects to graduate in May 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. Valle, who has interned as a production assistant with the Arizona Cardinals and was a color commentator for ASU softball, is working for the Phoenix sports bureau.

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