The Phoenix Open


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The FBR Open in Scottsdale, Arizona draws more spectators than any other event on the PGA Tour. It’s also one of the oldest tournaments dating back to the 1930’s when Barry Goldwater’s younger brother Bob, and a group of civic boosters called the Thunderbirds, started the Phoenix Open to bring tourists to the Valley of the Sun. Since that time, some of the biggest names in golf have won the event including Arnold Palmer, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus and Phil Mickelson.


Narrator: It's called the greatest show on grass. Scottsdale's FBR open is a golf tournament that feels like a Super Bowl.

Jim Frazier: It’s absolutely amazing. You have no idea how much bigger and how much more exciting this tournament is than anything in golf.

Tim Louis: It's just a huge event. It's not coming out to be real quiet and watch a golf tournament. It's a lot of fun. It's a place to be seen.

Narrator: But nobody could've seen it coming...not in the 1930s when the Phoenix Open was born.

Jim Frazier: The tournament had been put on in '32, '33, '34, and '35, but then because of the effects of the depression at that time, the tournament was canceled until 1939, when Bob Goldwater brought it back to life.

Narrator: Bob Goldwater, Barry's little brother, was a terrific amateur golfer. He was also a member of the Phoenix Thunderbirds, a civic organization with a unique sense of style.

Jim Frazier: This particular outfit that I'm wearing is something that you need to be secure in your manhood to wear it in public, but it goes back to 1937, when the Thunderbird emblem was the emblem of the Chamber of Commerce.

Narrator: The Thunderbirds started as a special events committee of the Phoenix Chamber of Commerce. Its mission: to promote local tourism by putting Phoenix in the national spotlight. The first attempt was an event called the Fiesta del Sol.

Jerry Lewkowski: It was a total flop. Total flop. It lost so much money, and the Chamber said, you know, "No more."

Len Huck: And so the Chamber of Commerce said, "Well, why don't you kind of go out on your own?" And that's when Bob Goldwater suggested that, "Well, maybe a golf tournament would attract some attention."

Narrator: The Thunderbirds didn't really like the idea, but they included Goldwater on a committee to talk about options with the chamber.

Bob Goldwater, Sr.: I was the only one that showed up on the committee, so I told the chamber that this is what we wanted to do. And then I went back and told the Thunderbirds that the Chamber had agreed to it. And they said, "Okay, you put it on."

Narrator: So he did. In fact, Goldwater was in charge of the first 12 Phoenix Opens. He sold tickets and used his connections to bring the best golfers and biggest celebrities out to play.

Jim Frazier: Bob Goldwater became what is known as the father of the Phoenix Open, and as they say, from that time on, the rest is history, because golf tournaments started then in 1939 with Bob Goldwater as the chairman.

Narrator: The 1939 tournament was held at Phoenix Country Club. Ben Hogan placed second that year. Byron Nelson finished first, winning the grand prize of $700. The money was modest, but it continued to grow, along with the tournament and the town. Phoenix was a city of about 60,000 people when the Thunderbirds took their first swing at putting on a golf tournament.

Jim Frazier: With the exception of the year 1943, it has been held every year. '43, it -- it was canceled because of gas rationing due to World War II. And interestingly, in 1944, they paid the prize money in war bonds.

Narrator: In the postwar 1950s, Phoenix grew to more than 400,000 people and the Thunderbirds started alternating the open between Phoenix and Arizona Country Clubs.
The 1960s was the decade of Arnold Palmer. He was a three-time Phoenix Open winner, taking the title in '61, '62, and '63. In the 1970s, the crowds were larger and the pants were louder. Phoenix Country Club became the Open's single venue, and first prize reached an all-time high of $40,000. During all those years, the Thunderbirds ran the show. They raised money to host the tournament and did every job under the sun. They were the Valley's movers and shakers. Take a look at the Thunderbirds' all-time roster and you'll see a who's who of Phoenix. By the time the 1980s came along, the Phoenix Open was outgrowing its home.

Jim Frazier: You know, when Phoenix Country Club was built, it was outside the city limits: 7th Street and Thomas. Everything that had been open land where you could park cars were now housing developments, shopping centers. We just simply had no place to park the cars and no place to put the people.

Narrator: Besides, the course was crowded and rather flat, often making it difficult to see.

Len Huck: Someone came up with the innovation of a periscope that we would sell. If you were in the third or fourth row around the green, you could hold the periscope up and look over the shoulders and heads of the people ahead of you and see what was going on.

Narrator: The PGA was pretty sure periscopes were not the answer. It wanted to build a new kind of golf course, a stadium course, with plenty of hills to give spectators a better view. Unable to find a location in Phoenix, the Thunderbirds accepted an invitation from Scottsdale Mayor Herb Drinkwater to move the tournament to his city. They settled on a location in far North Scottsdale. At the time, it was pretty much the middle of nowhere.

Jim Frazier: And we were told we had just killed the tournament, that nobody would ever go all the way out to Scottsdale and Bell Road.

Narrator: The new Tournament Players Club of Scottsdale was designed by Tom Weiskopf. It would host its first Phoenix Open in 1987. Pete Scardello was tournament chairman that year.

Pete Scardello: It was exciting and scary at the same time. I had a number of my friends tell me, "Pete, nobody's going to go way out to the TPC, because -- the Phoenix Country Club -- the people that want to watch golf are downtown, and they're not going out there."

Narrator: But people did show up, lots of people.

Pete Scardello: And we looked around and we go, "This is a home run. We've hit a home run."

Narrator: The tournament continues to produce memorable moments and record crowds.
It helps the Thunderbirds raise millions of dollars each year for charities.

Jim Frazier: Believe that anyone in the Valley understands how big and successful the Phoenix Open has become, and – pardon me, the FBR open.

Narrator: The Friedman, Billings, Ramsey Group became the tournament's sponsor in
2004. By 2007, the top prize had exceeded $1 million, a far cry from those 700 bucks that went to the winner back in 1939, when Bob Goldwater got this tournament going.

Bob Goldwater, Sr.: It wasn't anything like it is today.