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Saturday, March 2, 2024

'Civic Pride' at the Beer-Soaked WM Phoenix Open Isn't Worth Celebrating

Every Monday Alex Miceli will share what he learned from the previous week in golf. 

What I learned this week is that the old saying, “the ends justify the means,” is alive and well.

It was never more true than at the WM Phoenix Open, an event run by the Thunderbirds, whose history of community preservation and promotion is documented on the tournament’s website.

“The silver pendant of The Thunderbirds is emblematic of continuous civic pride and unrivalled success in the promotion of the Phoenix area.”

I guess I have a different definition of civic pride, and it isn’t people urinating in their pants, jumping into bunkers during play or falling dead drunk all over the course.

And those were just a few of the non-civic moments during last week’s Phoenix Open.

Dubbed “The People’s Open,” the annual trip to Scottsdale is a party like no other on Tour—with clearly little to no supervision. Many who entered the gates as adults were magically transformed into adolescents, with a beer or something harder in their hands to enjoy themselves since golf is clearly secondary to getting blotto.

This is the what the 16th hole is about at the WM Phoenix Open. 

Orlando Ramirez/Getty Images

The whole fiasco can be traced to the idea that golf as entertainment should change its stripes for one week a year, and its epicenter is the par-3 16th hole, where anything goes.

They call it “The Coliseum.” I call it the most dangerous hole in golf.

Thousands of people scream and yell before, during and after a shot, and that is the tamest part of the festivities. More disgusting are the fans who throw objects from the stands and drink like Prohibition is restarting on Monday.

And that permeates through the rest of the course in the form of boorish behavior, which players increasingly can no longer ignore.

Exhibit A: The usually mild-mannered Zach Johnson confronting fans along the ropes.

Exhibit B: Billy Horschel coming to the defense of a fellow player as the gallery yelled during his shot.

Exhibit C: Jordan Spieth unhappy with fans who yelled during his swing.

Back to the Thunderbirds: their mission is to assist children and families in need and improve the quality of life in and around Phoenix.

In 2023, the Thunderbirds raised $14.5 million for charity off the massive WMPO, and while such work is laudable, the process leaves a lot to be desired.

You want to support those is need, but at the price of your dignity and self-respect?

When Waste Management extended its title sponsorship for an additional 10 years in January 2019, CEO Jim Fish said:

“We love this event and atmosphere, how it strengthens our brand and most importantly, the platform it provides Waste Management to lead by example in showcasing zero waste environmental solutions and inspiring fans to make a positive difference for our planet. Together with The Thunderbirds, we are very proud of what we’ve accomplished for the benefit of the community and the environment over the last 10 years. We look forward to making an even greater impact in the decade to come.”

Words and phrases matter and when you throw them around like filler in a sentence to make you feel like you’re accomplishing something, when in reality you are so off your mission, it’s concerning.

The PGA Tour has continually turned a blind eye toward drinking to excess at golf events, but after this week it no longer can.

And if you’re wondering how important beer and alcohol sponsorship is to the tournament, the title sponsor of the Birds Nest, the off-course drinking and concert establishment, is Coors Light and the non-title sponsors is Jamison.

In June 2022, as LIV Golf was a few months old and splintering the pro game, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan asked a rhetorical question on a CBS broadcast: “Have you ever had to apologize for being a member of the PGA Tour?

Not sure the answer would be the same today as it might have been then.

The Tour, along with the Thunderbirds and the operational staff of the WMPO, owe an apology to fans and players alike. And then all parties need to look with a magnifying glass at the tournament’s operations so that it can continue to grow the charitable aspect, but in a responsible and adult manner.

No one wins after the sheer debacle of last week in Scottsdale.

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