Wearing an orange astronaut costume and with an inflatable alien strapped to his chest, Jim Smith said he was looking to make the WM Phoenix Open an “out of this world” experience for his bachelor’s trip.
“It’s just so much excitement here, just absolutely love it,” Smith said. “The environment is so interesting. It’s one of a kind.”
There’s no denying that the Phoenix Open is truly unique among PGA tour events. But more than just different, the “Greatest Show on Grass” is consistently one of the most popular stops on the tour as well.
This year, fans showed that not even cold weather, frost delays and repeated rain could get in the way of a good time, turning even the muddiest of hills into slip-and-slides. Given that unwavering support, many might wonder why not more tournaments try to follow the Phoenix Open blueprint.
“Everybody knows the Waste Management is the party, but I’d like to see more on the tour,” Kyle Fletcher said.
An avid golf fan, Fletcher traveled from West Columbia, Texas, to attend Day 2 of the Open before heading out to Phoenix’s various golf courses for a few rounds of his own over the weekend. Part of a bachelor party of ten Oompa Loompas, with the groom-to-be in a Willy Wonka outfit, he said he showed up at 4:20 a.m. to grab a spot at the 16th hole and enjoy an unequaled atmosphere.
Not all agree with Fletcher’s desire for more events to follow suit, however, as some fans fear it might dilute the experience.
“I think this is the tournament to do it at,” said Morgan Morgan, one of several college seniors from Boulder, Colorado, dressed in wizard costumes. “The Waste Management, it’s known for younger people flying in and dressing up and having a great time. I don’t think people would do this at Pebble Beach or something.”
Scottsdale resident Max Homa echoed that sentiment ahead of the tournament — in which he barely missed the cut for the third round — saying a lot of the tournament’s success is due to its location.
“I don’t think people recognize that this city, this is a part of the culture,” Homa said. “So, you can try, but you do need the culture of the city to be behind it to make it that great. … I would like it, it’s fun, I just think it’s unique to Scottsdale.”
But while he expressed reservations over a similar tournament’s potential for success elsewhere, Homa said he could see the benefit in trying it, notably to appeal to a younger audience.
Stephen Schwartz, dressed as Mario and joined by several other characters from the hit video games, is proof of that potential. First invited to the tournament last year by a friend from Arizona State, he said he immediately got hooked.
“Golf is old-fashioned, they bring a lot of older guys, but the Waste Management brings everyone,” Schwartz said. “They bring in the atmosphere of a party in college. It’s a good time.”
Not all golfers would support an expansion of Phoenix-style events, however, as several expressed frustration at fan antics during a chaotic Day 3. Byeong Hun An notably took to Twitter/X that evening to vent his disappointment, tweeting out “S---shows. Totally out of control on everyhole,” while Zach Johnson and Billy Horschel were both caught on camera confronting unruly behavior outside the ropes.
But for Owen Larson, a huge golf fan who’s attended six years in a row since moving to Scottsdale from Minneapolis, the end justifies the means.
“I think it’s great to grow the game of golf,” Larson, dressed as one of our Founding Fathers, said. “You can debate the intention of the tournament; some people use it just to party. I think, in any case, whatever the reason people are coming to this tournament grows the game in a positive way. So, I think if they could replicate this on a larger scale with the designated events and whatnot, it’s only going to benefit the game of golf.”
The question won’t truly be answered until another event takes a stab at it, though the LIV tour seems to be the one currently taking the lead on that front. Until then, Phoenix is sure to remain the one and only “People’s Open.”
“It’s an absolute electric factory, it gets the boys going,” said Kody Konarowski, one of seven Canadians in full Mountie uniform. “There’s a lot that goes into this tournament, and it’s absolute bananalands. It’s amazing.”
Timothy Belin is a graduate student at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism.
This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Blueprint or anomaly: the WM Phoenix Open question