This article originally appeared in Forbes on November 6, 2014.
Golf fans: What’s the most popular tournament on the PGA TOUR? Hint – it’s not the US Open, PGA Championship, or even the Masters. It’s the Waste Management Phoenix Open, nicknamed “The Greatest Show on Grass,” and consistently the most attended golf tournament in the world, year in and year out.
Held in early February, the tournament, which dates to the 1930s but has been at the TPC Scottsdale since 1987, is known for its large and wildly enthusiastic crowds, which can exceed half a million over the event. The course famously has the only self-contained stadium hole in golf, the par-3 sixteenth, which players enter and leave via tunnels since it is completely ringed with stands and resembles a baseball stadium. Tiger Woods recorded one of the signature moments of his career when he made a very public hole-in-one here in 1997. Woods never won the tournament, but the rest of the championship list (including the event under former names) reads like a Who’s Who of golf history: Phil Mickelson (3 times), Tom Lehman, Ben Crenshaw, Johnny Miller (twice), Arnold Palmer (thrice) Jack Nicklaus, Ken Venturi and even Ben Hogan (twice).
One of the big appeals of the tournament is that unlike many other high profile professional golf events, it is held on a public resort course – owned by the City of Scottsdale – which golf fans can play the rest of the year. Over the years, so many avid golfers have watched the greats tee it up on memorable holes like the sixteenth, and if you have seen this, there is no feeling quite like doing it yourself. In addition, Scottsdale is one of the top golf destinations on the planet, with excellent weather, numerous luxury resorts, and dozens of highly ranked public courses. As a result, even during the Open, visiting golfers can take a half day off and easily play a round on another world-class course, something impossible to do around many other big tournaments.
Now it is going to be better than ever. On November 14 the Stadium Course will reopen to public play following a major renovation by its original designer, Tom Weiskopf. “The time had come to update the Stadium Course at TPC Scottsdale to provide a more modern and state-of-art tournament course for today’s TOUR players,” said Weiskopf in a press release. “These changes will also position the Club to continue as the leader in the competitive Scottsdale resort and daily fee market…while enhancing the venue for the world’s largest attended golf event, the Waste Management Phoenix Open.”
The renovation was top to bottom and resulted in strategic changes on every single hole, with five holes significantly altered. Work included resurfacing all eighteen greens, as well as relocating some greens, tees, and bunkers. Many bunkers were reshaped and every one refilled with gleaming white sand, adding a visually impressive new look to the course. New cart paths and a new irrigation system were added, the already dramatic desert landscaping was enhanced further, and more than 250 trees were planted. The clubhouse was also fully renovated, from locker rooms to public spaces.
TPC stands for Tournament Players Club, a style of golf course specifically designed to hold tournaments and landscaped to provide natural spectator viewing from slopes and banks throughout, sort of the golf course itself built as a spectator-friendly stadium. The original TPC Course is Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida at the world headquarters of the PGA TOUR, which owns the TPC network, now up to 33 facilities worldwide. The 36-hole TPC Scottsdale includes two championship layouts, the Stadium Course, where the tournament is held, and the also impressive Champions Course. The complex is partnered with the onsite luxury Fairmont Scottsdale Princess resort hotel and spa, which offers packages for guests and an easy turnkey golf vacation experience.
“We are extremely pleased with the upgrades to the golf course and clubhouse,” said Charlie Zink, Co-COO of the PGA TOUR, in a release. “The work that has been done significantly elevates TPC Scottsdale’s capacity to host the Waste Management Phoenix Open and challenge the best players in the world, while serving as a premier golf destination throughout the year.”
The course is reopening for its peak season under the sunny Scottsdale skies even as most golf courses around the country are shutting down for the winter.