GOLF

The Thunderbirds exec: WM Phoenix Open to consider ‘complete operational changes’

Feb 13, 2024, 9:47 AM

WM Phoenix Open crowds on Friday...

WM Phoenix Open crowds on Friday (Tyler Drake/Arizona Sports)

(Tyler Drake/Arizona Sports)

It appears the 2024 WM Phoenix Open will serve as a turning point after the usually rowdy PGA Tour event at TPC Scottsdale crossed a line that led its organizers to take the drastic steps of closing gates and shutting down alcohol sales.

One of the tournament’s organizers, The Thunderbirds executive director Chance Cozby, told the Golf Channel on Monday that “nothing is off the table” when it comes to making changes.

He spoke a day after Nick Taylor won the 2024 WM Phoenix Open on Sunday and two days after the combination of rain, attendance and booze contributed to the decision to shut the gates Saturday.

“We’re going to make changes. We have a very unique culture of our event … I don’t think any of us dreamed it would grow to this level of attendance and excitement,” Cozby told the Golf Channel. “The fine line was really when we felt like we were just at a point on Saturday where our fans could not move around the golf course.

“We have 365 days to fix this. I think you will see a complete operational change of how we manage really our Friday and Saturday — but our entire week. We’re very proud of what we’ve built. But we don’t like what happened on Saturday. The players don’t like what happened on Saturday. The fans don’t like what happened Saturday. Nothing is off the table.”

Why did the 2024 WM Phoenix Open shut gates, stop serving alcohol?

About an inch of rain fell near TPC Scottsdale this past week, according to the Maricopa County precipitation database.

That squeezed fans off grass and dirt spaces where they could normally walk or view the course, packing the concrete walkways instead.

The main concourse around the food and drink tents came to a crawl Saturday, and that’s when Cozby said the team huddled with security personnel to shut the gates, causing some fans with tickets to be turned away.

It was the first time the WM Phoenix Open had to shut down the entrances and stop alcohol sales.

Cozby said the leadership team huddled for five or six hours on Saturday to discuss what went wrong. The Thunderbirds on Sunday apologized to fans for having to take those steps.

Frustration on the course for some players continued building up into Sunday. Golfer Zach Johnson was filmed verbally confronting fans and telling them to “shut up” and later told AZCentral.com reporter Theo Mackie that he was likely “done” with the tournament.

At other points in the tournament, Jordan Spieth reacted to fans’ shouts on one tee-off, while Billy Horschel had words with fans to defend another golfer who was hitting a shot through jeers.

Discussions about making changes aren’t waiting now that The Thunderbirds are looking toward the 2025 edition, the 90th time that they will have hosted the WM Phoenix Open.

“We’re going to look at our general admission ticket exposure and how many are out in the marketplace, we’re going to look at our complete security plan and just how we operate,” Cozby said. “I think Saturday at the WM Phoenix Open in 2024 is going to end up being a turning point for our tournament and our organization to make our event better. We learned so much and we know that we have to make improvements. We owe it to our fans, we owe it to the PGA Tour players who come and support this event. We’re not going to let it happen again for all these reasons.

“We will be humble, we will make changes and we will make this right.”

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The Thunderbirds exec: WM Phoenix Open to consider ‘complete operational changes’