Musical Chairs: The Critical Positions Inside the WM Phoenix Open

Editorial StaffJanuary 4, 2024
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What does it take to stage the world’s most-attended golf tournament? Hundreds of volunteers, one 87-year-old men’s club and a revolving cast of chairmen. 

NFL star Reggie Bush at the 2023 WMPO Pro-Am. Photo courtesy WMPO
NFL star Reggie Bush at the 2023 WMPO Pro-Am. Photo courtesy WMPO

Founded in 1937 with a mandate to spur tourism in Arizona through sports and spectacle, the Phoenix Thunderbirds have exclusively managed the Phoenix Open since the earliest days of the tournament. Each of the fraternal organization’s 55 active members – a fixed number that never changes; at age 45, members are moved to emeritus status in favor of fresh recruits – have specific jobs to do, spread out over 30 chairman-led committees. Here are some of the most critical positions.

Tournament Chairman
The Open’s executive manager and shot-caller. Selected by an advisory board made up of the six previous tournament chairmen, he first serves a year as deputy chairman to get experience before running his own tournament. Like all chairmanships, it’s a one-year position.

Big Chief
The year after his term ends, the tournament chairman is invited to serve in this ceremonial position – i.e. handing out the oversize champion’s check at the end of the tournament and taking the lead on the Thunderbirds’ charitable efforts.

House and Grounds
Manages the Open’s estimated 1,000,000 square feet of skyboxes, luxury tents and assorted temporary edifices, including the 12,000-seat Coliseum at 16. According to sources, this is the most demanding of the Open chairmanships – one ex-H&G chair reportedly took a two-month sabbatical from work to execute his duties.

Wednesday Pro-Am
Recruits the 10-12 celebrities who typically participate in the popular pre-tournament event; also manages the Tuesday draw party that pairs amateur with pro. 

Birds Nest
Another monster job – one that requires the chairman to become a seasoned music promoter overnight (see page 24-25).

Concessions
With 800,000-plus total attendance over five days, the number of drinks, hot dogs and snacks sold rides into the millions. There’s a chairman for that.

Parking/Traffic Control
The least sexy of the chairmanships, as he sees no golf. But a critical job for fan experience.

Skyboxes, Tents & Such
From the 1937 Club to Cove 17, most the of the main hospitality venues at the Open have their own chair. So, while you’re sipping a Captain and Coke in the shade as Rickie Fowler drains a birdie on 13, know a Thunderbird labored to make it happen.