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Construction underway at Phoenix Open as officials plan for full capacity event

Thunderbirds Executive Director Chance Cozby said he is grateful there is some sense of...
Thunderbirds Executive Director Chance Cozby said he is grateful there is some sense of normalcy returning to the Phoenix Open and that "we are just trying to get everyone back on the same page and getting back in the rhythm of building the greatest and greenest show on grass."(Cronkite News)
Published: Nov. 30, 2021 at 9:44 AM MST
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PHOENIX – At PGA Tour events, golf fans are typically expected to be quiet and respectful. However, the Waste Management Phoenix Open breaks that standard at TPC Scottsdale’s famous – and infamous – 16th hole.

The raucous par-3 stadium hole that is enclosed by bleachers and skyboxes, will return to full capacity and decibel levels for the 2022 event after fan access was limited in 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Construction of the grandstands is underway as tournament officials and the sponsoring Thunderbirds organization prepare TPC Scottsdale’s Stadium Course for the event. The Thunderbirds are a nonprofit organization formed in 1986 to manage the tournament and distribute money raised by it to Arizona charities.

Although crews are working diligently, Thunderbirds Executive Director Chance Cozby said there are challenges to setting up the venue at TPC Scottsdale.

“We had a year off with COVID and we didn’t do a lot of building in 2020,” Cozby said. “We are just trying to get everyone back on the same page and getting back in the rhythm of building the greatest and greenest show on grass.”

The temporary stadium at the 16th hole has to be constructed before the tournament and then dismantled after it ends. It seats nearly 20,000 spectators, which accounts for around 6-10% of tournament attendance on Saturday, the event’s busiest day. There are also 275 skyboxes overlooking the hole as part of the construction, each with HD televisions, couches, and food and beverage services.

The iconic hole is surrounded by grass mounding before the stadium goes up and emerged as the most popular spot for fans on the course when Arizona State University students gravitated there to watch former Sun Devils great Phil Mickelson play in the event.

PGA Tour and tournament officials had to decide whether to try to tone down the rowdy atmosphere or embrace it.

They embraced it.

Since then, tournament organizers have continued to add new wrinkles through the years, first adding bleachers, which grew into grandstands and eventually skyboxes, and then a tunnel entrance for players as they depart the 15th and enter the 16th’s stadium.

Tournament chairman Michael Golding said there is more new stuff coming for 2022, including what organizers have dubbed a “Concert in the Coliseum.”

“The Waste Management Phoenix Open has a brand new event that I’m excited about,” Golding said. “On February 5th, at the 16th hole, we will be hosting a concert with Old Dominion and Thomas Rhett. We will drop a stage in the middle of the fairway and Old Dominion will open up for Thomas Rhett.”

Golding said DraftKings, the sports betting operation, will also be part of the 2022 tournament and homebuilder Taylor Morrison will sponsor a new feature intended to appeal to average golf fans that provides views of another part of the course.

“We have 36,000 feet of structure for the Fairway House on the 12th hole,” Golding said. “A general admission fan can come out and enjoy four holes from our highest point on the golf course.”

The Thunderbirds may be just as excited to see the crowds return as the fans are excited to return to the course. Since 2010, the Thunderbirds have distributed more than $45 million from the Waste Management Phoenix Open.

“We are bringing people and the energy back to the town at that time of the year,” Cozby. “The most important thing for us is that we are going to give back. We did $14 million giveaways from the 2020 Waste Management.”

That number dropped to about $3.8 million last year, and Cozby is excited about the opportunity the tournament has to return to normal in 2022.

Tournament week runs from February 7-13, including pro-ams, practice rounds and charity events. The PGA Tour event runs from Feb. 10-13 at TPC Scottsdale.

Copyright 2021 Cronkite News/Arizona Board of Regents. All rights reserved.