The FBR Open, a professional golf tournament that attracts 500,000 spectators and a national spotlight to the region, marks its 20th year in Scottsdale starting today. The event’s two-decade run at Tournament Players Club of Scottsdale has refined the city’s image as a tourism and leisure hub.
It’s also loosened the sport’s stigma as a genteel diversion for shushers.
The FBR Open has become the most wellattended event on the PGA’s tour. The 16th hole might as well be played in US Airways Center.
Fans, celebrities, TV, gold cards, platinum cards, corporate tents, sky boxes — originally, it was all intended for Phoenix.
The tournament, formerly known as the Phoenix Open, previously had been staged at Phoenix Country Club. The weather was always nice and it attracted good crowds.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, though, former PGA commissioner Dean Beaman proposed the idea of building “stadium” golf courses with steep banks to give spectators better sightlines to the action.
Flat golf courses such as Phoenix Country Club instead offered most fans prime views of the bald spot of the guy in front of them.
“Spectators used these periscopes alongside the fairways to see the action,” said Bill Grove, general manager of TPC of Scottsdale. “That was as close as they could get to being able to be a part of what was going on.”
The first stadium courses opened in the early 1980s and Beaman figured Phoenix would be an excellent location for another.
There was discussion of building a stadium course near the Pointe Hilton Tapatio Cliffs Resort, but negotiations between the PGA and Phoenix fell apart, said former tournament chairman Pete Scardello.
Then-Scottsdale Mayor Herb Drinkwater sent letters to the PGA and the Phoenix Thunderbirds, the host Phoenix Open organization, offering Scottsdale as an alternative.
By December 1986, TPC of Scottsdale had opened. The tournament followed a month later. “The hard part was moving it, because at Phoenix, we had it down,” Scardello said.
There were three small corporate tents and about 140,000 spectators the final year in Phoenix. There were 10 large tents and about 220,000 people the first year in Scottsdale.
“It was a hit from the getgo,” said Scardello, a Phoenix accountant and life member of the Thunderbirds.
Plenty of people worried that fans wouldn’t make the trip to Hayden and Bell roads. At the time, it was surrounded by the Central Arizona Canal on the south and seemingly endless desert on the other three sides.
Scardello knew better. His marketing director updated him every day as the tournament drew near.
Sales were up for standard tickets, premium tickets, corporate tents and pro-am tournament slots.
“We were just selling tickets like there was no tomorrow,” Scardello said. “I mean, there were people everywhere. People came out in droves. That Saturday — I’ll never forget it — there were more people all over that golf course.”
Drinkwater found Scardello on the course and predicted that one day 500,000 would attend during the week of the tournament.
“He was right, because it’s just the perfect venue for golf,” he said.
TPC of Scottsdale was the sixth stadium course built. The concept has worked exactly as planned. The FBR Open has established itself as “The Greatest Show on Grass” and serves as the national model for staging pro tournaments.
“On the days when we’ll have upwards of 160,000 on this property on a Friday or a Saturday, there’s still room for people to watch golf,” Grove said.
“There’s still pockets and places out there that you can go and sit and watch players go through and watch shots and see things happen that ordinarily on a flat golf course you wouldn’t see,” he said.
In addition to the draw of the course itself, the FBR Open benefits from several other factors, Grove said. Among them: Scottsdale’s resort infrastructure, mild weather, ample parking and first-class hospitality provided by the Thunderbirds.
The tournament attracts thousands of visitors from around the world, according to a July 2005 city report, “Scottsdale Golf: A Market Analysis.”
“The FBR Open receives exposure through national and international media coverage. The long-term impact of such coverage on both the Scottsdale golf industry and the community is immeasurable,” the report states.
Tourists account for approximately 40 percent of all golf played in Scottsdale and consistently rank golf as one of their top five activities during visits.
There are 26 golf facilities in the city, creating an estimated 1,800 full-time jobs and 960 part-time jobs, the report states.
The FBR Open, along with the Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Auction and P.F. Chang’s Rock ’n’ Roll Arizona Marathon and 1 /2 Marathon, jumpstart the tourism industry in January and February, said Kathy O’Connor, Scottsdale’s general manager of tourism development.
“January and early February used to be the shoulder season and now they’re happily high season,” she said.
The area’s desert-style golf courses help make it a distinctive destination because golfers can’t find similar courses anywhere else in the nation.
“Golf is a significant tourism driver, as well as a wonderful amenity for residents,” O’Connor said. Roughly 13.5 percent of Arizona residents golf. Scottsdale officials plan to conduct further research to ascertain golf’s exact role within the local tourism market.
This much already is known: The TPC of Scottsdale is where the golf clap was replaced with the golf roar.