Writer Rebecca L. Rhoades // Photography Courtesy of WM Phoenix Open
The Valley of the Sun is one of the best places in the nation for golf, with more than 165 courses in the Greater Phoenix area. Each winter, linksmen from around the world visit Arizona to test their skills on greens designed by legends of the sport, including Jack Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf.
But there’s one golf event that outshines them all. This month, the WM Phoenix Open, often referred to as “The Greatest Show on Grass,” returns for the 88th time to Scottsdale.
This year, players will vie for an elevated $20 million purse, up from $8.2 million in 2022. The first-place winner will take home $3.6 million. More than 130 of the world’s top golfers are scheduled to play.
Some notable names include defending WM Phoenix Open champion Scottie Scheffler, seven-time PGA Tour winner and 2020 Olympic Gold Medalist Xander Schauffele, five-time PGA Tour winners Tony Finau and Max Homa, four-time PGA Tour winner Sam Burns and World No. 1 Rory McIlroy. Six-time European Tour winner Tommy Fleetwood also will be making his WM Phoenix Open debut.
“The field for the 2023 WM Phoenix Open is shaping up to be one of the strongest in tournament history,” says tournament chairman Pat Williams.
To help you prepare, Images Arizona has put together a guide that gives you everything you need to know about the WM Phoenix Open. All you’ll need to do is show up on game day.
The Group Behind the Open
Birdies and bogeys are synonymous with golf — so are Thunderbirds. No, it’s not a newfangled term. Since 1937, this civic organization has been helping run the event.
The Thunderbirds formed in 1937 as a special events committee for the Phoenix Chamber of Commerce. Five young executives were chosen to head the committee; each then selected 10 additional members. To this day, the organization remains limited to 55 members.
One of the earliest inductees was Bob Goldwater, brother of former U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater. An avid golfer, Bob thought it would be fun for the organization to promote a golf tournament, and in 1939, he invited his friends Bob Hope and golf greats Arnold Palmer and Ben Hogan to play at the Phoenix Country Club and sold tickets.
The event was a success — beginning a long and successful relationship with the PGA tournament. Goldwater later became known as the “Father of the Phoenix Open.”
The Thunderbirds pride themselves on their dedication to their community and their philanthropic efforts. Through the WM Phoenix Open, they’ve helped raise more than $165 million, which supports local food banks, youth programs, employment and skills training programs and more.
Beyond the Green
The WM Phoenix Open is more than a golf tournament. It’s a lifestyle event that offers something for every member of the family — even those who aren’t fans of the sport. Perhaps that’s why it is also known as “The People’s Open.”
While the professional competition is the main feature, a variety of non-competition activities allow players and fans to simply relax and have a good time. There are motivational talks and Q&As with PGA professionals, a junior golf clinic and a putting challenge between Special Olympics athletes, celebrities and community business leaders. On the course, the players enjoy two days of practice rounds, and they can meet with guests in designated autograph zones.
The festivities begin prior to opening day with a special concert by Grammy Award-winning rock/pop band Maroon 5. It is the second-ever “Concert in the Coliseum;” last year country singer Thomas Rhett rocked the specially built stage in the middle of the iconic 16th hole.
On Wednesday, Feb. 8, celebrities and famous athletes tee up for the Annexus Pro-Am. Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, NFL legend Emmitt Smith, and former St. Louis Cardinals phenom Albert Pujols are scheduled to appear.
One of the most popular attractions at the tournament is the Coors Light Birds Nest. Each night, from Wednesday through Saturday, after the last player tackles the finishing hole, 10,000-plus pumped-up fans head across the Greenway-Hayden Loop to the hottest nightclub in the Valley — a 50,000-square-foot tent where some of the music industry’s top stars will perform.
This year’s lineup includes country superstar Jason Aldean, contemporary rapper and rock musician Machine Gun Kelly and electronic DJ duo The Chainsmokers. Country music stars Dustin Lynch, Lainey Wilson and Chris Lane kick off the four-day concert series on Wednesday. New for 2023 is an expanded outdoor patio area at the Birds Nest that will feature more live music, outdoor games and various food and beverage options.
Center of the Action
Then there’s the legendary 16th hole. This coveted spectator spot is considered one of the most exciting holes in golf — not for its difficulty as it’s only a par three but instead for its party atmosphere.
Every year, upwards of 20,000 fans converge on the grandstand setting to boo the bad shots, cheer the good ones and drink — lots. Bolstered by the excitement of seeing their favorite players — and more than a few libations — the rowdy fans do not hesitate to show how they feel.
In 1997, Tiger Woods aced the 16th hole, and last year, Sam Ryder notched his first PGA Tour hole-in-one at the same spot. Both times, it was instant bedlam. The crowd went nuts, tossing their beer cans and cups onto the green and spraying beer in the air — and onto each other.
PGA golfer Justin Thomas once said about the hole, “It seems like every year it gets crazier and crazier. It’s a great atmosphere. The fans are unbelievable, they are what makes this event what it is.”
WM Phoenix Open
Feb. 6–12 // See website for schedule // TPC Scottsdale // 17020 N. Hayden Road, Scottsdale // Free+ // wmphoenixopen.com