As fans converge for both the Super Bowl and The Peoples’ Open, “the eyes of the world are on Scottsdale,” said Thunderbird’s WM Phoenix Open Tournament Chairman, Pat Williams. And Scottsdale, Arizona is ready!
Pat shared what’s new for the WM Phoenix Open in a press conference along with WM’s CEO, Tim Fish and moderated by Arizona Diamondbacks CEO, Derrick Hall. Pat quipped that he was the only one on the stage without a CEO title since he is a real estate broker. Tim retorted that might be an enviable career. He leads the company that has taken the Greatest Show on Grass to a zero-waste event in four years, not an easy task.
While WM is committed to zero waste and recycling, they also are investing in renewable energy from landfills. The WM Phoenix Open team is looking to mitigate the tossing of garbage on the famous coliseum style 16th green by pouring beer from cans into commemorative cups before serving. They are keen on improving the fan experience with more strategic restrooms, drinking water, a new entrance, and more thrills.
This year, WM Phoenix Open was selected as one of the nine designated PGA tournaments which means more money ($20m purse and $3.6m to the winner) and more top tier competitors like Rory McIlroy, Morikawa, Homa, Finau, Fleetwood, Thomas, Zalatoris, and Young.
WM and the Thunderbirds both credit their partnership for making the elevated status happen. The Thunderbirds raised $10.5m for charity last year and $165m over its lifetime.
So where do you stay when you come to Scottsdale?
There are so many fine resorts to choose from. For the 20th and final Huffman Media Classic in December, 60 golf writers stayed at We-Ko-Pa Resort.
While Scottsdale and WM Phoenix Open’s weather mantra is “75 and sunny”, we did have a cold snap then, warranting hot hands, beanies, and We-Ko-Pa’s NFL style hand warming muffs. Northerners said it still beat shoveling snow and We-Ko-Pa was warming in every way from people service to comfortable accommodations and firepits.
After rounds of golf, We-Ko-Pa Casino Resort extends the fun at the Sports Page Bar with full wall screens, good chow, and drinks with betting optional. We had winners in the crowd there and on the Casino floor’s game tables, open 24/7.
The Media Classic golf tournament kicked off with a practice round on We-Ko-Pa’s Saguaro Course designed by Coore and Crenshaw.
Bill Coore was on hand to chat about bringing “old world philosophy to the desert which can be a hostile environment.” They searched to find ground suitable to golf without many alterations to the natural habitat and without going higher since Scott Miller’s Cholla Course already featured elevation. Without any homes there or planned, they found “a circulation pattern with interesting elements of the property.”
On the first tee box, a stone plaque reads, “This old boney ground has some ‘sting’ to it.” – Ben Crenshaw – March 2005. It is, indeed, pure desert golf with all the saguaros, flora, and fauna. A coyote saunters across the first fairway and hangs out by the ninth green allowing golfers to play through.
Greenside bunkers can be deep trouble such as on #2, a short par 4 where the green slopes right to it but the bunker also saves the ball from the desert beside it. #4 has the same arrangement on the left side and #6 has all those interesting elements Bill referenced– mountain views, mighty saguaros, and a wide sloping fairway. Coore and Crenshaw’s mission was accomplished as the cart screen flashes Golfweek’s ranking – Still alone at the top -Saguaro no. 1 Cholla no. 7 in Arizona and in the US, Saguaro is no. 71.
At the We-Ko-Pa Golf Club, the grill patio view goes on forever with a warm firepit outside, tv screens inside and a pro shop full of fun fashions. Enthusiastic greeters handle golf bags and the ample driving range and practice greens ready players for their rounds.
Second Round was played at Troon North with local resident Cheyenne Woods participating and sharing stories with the group. The Troon North Monument Course is memorable as one of our first rounds together 20 years ago and for many occasions since, including a Hank Haney demonstration that concluded at his home.
Mike Friend, Director of Sales has risen through the ranks, ensuring quality player experiences for many years, and is boosted by General Manager, Brian Thorne and his stellar, welcoming staff. Due to excellent groundskeeping, most first-time visitors can’t believe the grass is real, it is that pristine.
Third round played back on We-Ko-Pa’s Cholla Course, in Fountain Hills, with more elevations as mentioned and views of the namesake fountain spouting in the distance several times an hour. Cholla’s character shines through the desert scape as it follows the ridges and canyons below the mountains.
We-Ko-Pa Casino Resort’s golf is some of the best in Arizona but that’s not all. The heated pool with Jacuzzis looked inviting and even on cool days had some northern takers. The spa is world class, and a boutique is filled with shopper’s wishes. The concierge can arrange horseback riding, off-road tours, kayaking and more for the outdoor types.
The final evening was a night to remember at We-Ko-Pa’s Fort McDowell Adventures. The old west comes to life with a staged bull for riding, roping lessons, branding art for luggage tags, a live band, and Yavapai Nation hoop dancers. General Manager Matt Barr is keen on quality performances. His sendoff finale was the most spectacular fireworks show in the dark desert sky.
The final round was played next day at Grayhawk Golf Club on the Raptor Course where again, memories flowed of playing in charity tournaments, watching with Rickie Fowler‘s mom as he almost won his first pro event and annual competitions in the NCAA Championships for men and women. The 36-hole facility at Grayhawk is one of the premier golf venues in the valley of the sun, always well-manicured and challenging for all skill levels. Choose your tee box well and strategize shots when facing the water features, especially coming home on 18.
Beyond golf, the Scottsdale area has something for everyone – hiking, museums, professional sports venues including baseball spring training, zoos and even aquariums. In fact, the OdySea Aquarium on Arizona Boardwalk is the fifth largest in the nation. The Arizona Boardwalk is more of a cobblestone circle full of family fun with Pangea Dinosaur, Butterfly and Alien exhibits, a water feature, shops and more, all anchored by OdySea Aquarium. The Voyager rotating theater takes guests on a 20 minute, educational and entertaining “voyage” through four of OdySea Aquarium’s largest exhibits.
It was the last Media Classic which is sad but memories through the years will last a lifetime, and all who attended will indubitably still return to Scottsdale because it is a hotspot for golf and adventures and we are lucky to call it home, sweet, home. Y’all come see us some time.