SCOTTSDALE, AZ (ARIZONA HIGHWAYS TV) – The Waste Management Phoenix Open is a premier stop on the PGA Tour. There's a lot of money floating around TPC Scottsdale, but a big chunk of it always goes to Thunderbirds Charities. Comprised of 55 men, The Thunderbirds are the driving force behind the Open.
"One of my greatest memories of the Phoenix Open, which is now the Waste Management Phoenix Open was spending the day with Bob Goldwater," The Thunderbirds spokesman Dan Mahoney said. Bob Goldwater Jr. was one of the first Thunderbirds, and probably the guy most credited with growing the tournament. Called the "Father of the Phoenix Open," Goldwater was the tournament chairman from 1934 through 1951.
The Thunderbirds started back in the '30s as part of an effort to raise tourism for a very small Phoenix, AZ. The Chamber of Commerce wanted to bring a group together that would promote the Valley, which was very, very small at the time. They selected five individuals who, in turn, recruited 10 others. That's how they got to 55. To this day, there are only 55 active Thunderbirds on the committee at any given time. When a member turns 45, his status changes from active to "life member." The organization says it's common for life members to remain active in the tournament and other events sponsored by The Thunderbirds.
Dubbed #ThePeoplesOpen, the Waste Management Phoenix Open is the best-attended golf tournament in the world, Mahoney said. He said it's because of the incredible community support. "At the PGA Tour Awards, we received, amongst a number of accolades, most engaged community," he explained. "And that's a testament to how much the community supports and embraces what we do out here."
Players have voted the Waste Management Phoenix Open one of their favorite stops on the Tour, and for four of the past six years, it was named Tournament of the Year by the PGA Tour. More than 500,000 people are expected at this year's event, which, along with The Thunderbirds, is celebrating its 85th anniversary.
Even as The Thunderbirds innovate when it comes to the tournament and their year-round charity work, they are steeped in tradition, including the "uniform" the members wear. "The blue tunic, the concho belt, the silver thunderbird is all to pay homage to the Native American culture and history of the Valley of the Sun," Mahoney explained. "And the thunderbird is actually the symbol of the Chamber of Commerce.
That nod to Native Americans has now come full circle, with the presence of Arizona's Ak-Chin Indian Community as the presenting sponsor.
"We're allowing ourselves to get our name out there to promote ourselves in a sense," Tribal Chairman Robert Miguel said. "But not just Ak-Chin, but (also) other Native tribes."