WM Phoenix Open vows ‘operational audit’ to avoid repeat of events at TPC Scottsdale

Feb, 2024

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The 2024 WM Phoenix had a fantastic finish with a playoff that ended just before dark Sunday but this year’s version of the People’s Open is being remembered for rain, muddy conditions and the social media videos of fans drinking too much and getting into it with players.

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Four days after its conclusion, tournament director George Thimsen told Golfweek there have already been long discussions about how to be better next time around, especially for the third round on Saturday, always the most highly attended day of the week.

“With respect to Saturday, I think we have a lot of things to learn from,” Thimsen said. “I think that we understand that it was a challenging set of circumstances that we had to navigate.”

Using the term “operational audit,” Thimsen said the Thunderbirds, the civic group that runs the WMPO at TPC Scottsdale, will look at the entire week.

“Each year as this tournament continues to grow, the Thunderbirds and all of our partners in law enforcement and first responders, we meet and we do a post-mortem of the event,” he said. “What are some of the key learnings that how can we continue to improve? And obviously this year, there’s some major improvements and operational things that we are looking to make and the Thunderbirds are committed to doing that.

“We’re committed to making this an event that the community is proud of. But, yeah, on that Saturday, the weather that morning and just the sheer number of people that still wanted to come out and enjoy the event, it did create a lot of congestion.”

Days of rain made many of the grassy hillsides unusable for fans. Well, mostly unusable except for the fan caught on viral video sliding shirtless face first in the muck, then getting doused in beer from several of his friends.

More: Viral videos of — let’s just say lubricated — fans at the 2024 WM Phoenix Open

Do the Thunderbirds feel like part of the future plan is the discouragement of excessive drinking?

“We’re going to be addressing the distribution channels of alcohol and the alcoholic beverages to our guests and we’re going to make the necessary changes that we need to once we are able to diagnose everything, all elements of it,” Thimsen said.

Other social media videos showed Zach Johnson and Billy Horschel getting into it with fans who crossed the line with comments to the golfers. Johnson in particular, when asked a full day later about the situation

“You’re hitting me at a very emotional point right now, so if I were to say if I’m gonna come back, I’d probably say no,” Johnson told The Arizona Republic. “But at the same time, I have no idea.”

Things may have come to a head around 2 p.m. on Saturday when the tournament gates were closed, even to fans who purchased tickets. That led to social media outrage. To make it up to those fans, Thimsen said they can send an email to [email protected] and after providing an order number, a ticket number or an email associated with the original order, get a full refund.

“We own up to it, we take full responsibility and own that Saturday was not perfect and we want to continue to prove that but the stage was not the normal stage that we have,” he said.

Justin Thomas thanks the crowd after his putt on the 10th green during the second round of the 2024 WM Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale. (Photo: The Arizona Republic)

Chance Cozby, executive director of the Thunderbirds, was on Golf Channel Monday and called Saturday a “turning point.” On Tuesday, he and next year’s WM Phoenix Open tournament chairman Matt Mooney visited Pacific Palisades, California, ahead of this week’s Genesis Invitational. The Sports Business Journal reported that the duo met with PGA Tour players throughout the day to get feedback, the most common being that fans didn’t seem to get out of line when uniformed police officers were stationed in highly visible areas.

Tournament organizers stopped announcing attendance figures in 2019. In 2018, the tournament reported a weekly attendance of 719,179 and a Saturday attendance of 216,818, the most ever in a single day on record for the event. That Saturday was also the third year in a row the attendance surpassed the 200,000 mark.

I think there’s been a lot of speculative numbers out there and we actually don’t have a number that we have officially communicated internally yet so I don’t have a number,” Thimsen said when asked about a 2024 number.

What is still being tracked are public-safety security issues. The numbers show that arrests went from 18 to 54 from 2023 to 2024 and that ejections went from 102 to 211.

Security issues 2022 2023 2024
Calls for service 440 558 653
Arrests 0 18 54
Ejections 90 102 211
Trespass 14 41 73

Source: Arizona Department of Liquor License and Control

If last Saturday’s attendance was close to the 2018 mark of more than 200,000, then the 211 fans tossed out represents 0.1 percent and the 54 fans arrested is 0.03 percent of all the fans who attended.

Still, seeing those numbers double and triple, respectively, is a trend moving in the wrong direction.

The full operational audit will take time to complete but one distinct possibility is that fewer tickets will be sold on the popular days of Friday and Saturday in future years.

“I think that one thing you can definitely count on is that we’re going to make improvements and diagnose through our operational audit what makes the most sense for our tournament,” Thimsen said. “But if I were a betting man, I would say that likely there will be less people on a Friday and a Saturday at our event and that we would focus on quality over quantity.

“You know, we’re proud of the uniqueness and energy of the WMPOs. It is the People’s Open but we do understand that we need to make changes and not necessarily, you know, always bigger, but definitely always to get better.”

The Phoenix Open donated more than $14 million to charities after the 2023 event, bringing the lifetime total to close to $110 million.

“We’re hoping to be able to get to announce a number very similar because people are out there partying with a purpose,” Thimsen said. “I think that that’s really the main focus, that I hope people can rally around, which is, yes, there are some things out there that are fun to see on video and kind of scroll through when you’re on your social media but at the end of the day, we’re making a really big impact for our community here and that’s why we do what we do.”


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