Changes coming in wake of chaotic Phoenix Open

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Changes are coming to next year’s WM Phoenix Open in the wake of a series of incidents involving fans and golfers, overcrowding on the course, and the suspensions of both admissions and alcohol sales on Saturday.

Chance Cozby, the executive director of the Thunderbirds, the civic organization that hosts the WM Phoenix Open, told the Golf Channel on Monday that the tournament is already looking at ways to fix the issues that plagued the largest tournament on the PGA Tour this year.

“I think that you will see a complete operational change of how we manage, really, our Friday and Saturday, but the entire week,” Cozby said. “We’re very proud of what we’ve built. I think, we’ve been tournament of the year on the PGA Tour five of the last seven years. But we don’t like what happened on Saturday. The players don’t like what happened on Saturday. Our fans don’t like what happened on Saturday, and, so, nothing is off the table.”

Cozby said the WM Phoenix Open’s leadership team spent “five or six hours” on Saturday afternoon as fans were starting to leave brainstorming what changes needed to happen. The initial focus will be on the sale of general admission tickets and the tournament’s “complete security plan.”

The WM Phoenix Open sold out of general admission tickets for Friday and Saturday, historically, the two most attended days of the tournament after putting caps on both days. The WM Phoenix Open stopped announcing attendance numbers after the 2018 tournament, when it et tournament records for attendance with 191,400 people on Friday and 216,818 people on Saturday.

Cozby explained that the onslaught of rain last week led to the grounds at the TPC Scottsdale, where the Phoenix Open has been played since 1987, to become muddy and slick, which forced fans to walk along the concrete paths instead of using the grass hills to sit and walk.

That “really created significant congestion to where, ultimately, on Saturday we didn’t do anything different from a ticketing or fan perspective as we’ve done in years past,” Cozby said. “But since areas of the golf course were not usable. The decision was made by our security partners and our team to close the front gate, to close the concession stands, to close alcohol sales. We opened up all of our security blowouts on the entire course to safely remove our fans from the course and get everything back under control and try to get through that Saturday, which was a very tough day.”

It rained 1.14 inches over the course of last week, according to the National Weather Service. On average, Arizona gets between 7 and 8 inches of rain a year.

Cozby said the tournament decided to make stop letting fans in on Saturday when a large paved road that runs alongside the right fairways of the 17th and 18th holes were so packed with people that foot traffic wasn’t able to flow like normal.

“The fine line was really when we felt like we were just at a point on Saturday where our fans could not move around the golf course,” Cozby said. “And at that moment, the right thing to do was to take the steps that we did.”

During his appearance, Cozby did not address if fan behavior was the cause of alcohol sales being suspended Saturday. On Sunday, Ryder Cup captain Zach Johnson and Billy Horschel were each captured on video having heated interactions with fans.

Johnson told the Arizona Republic after the tournament on Sunday that he felt the Thunderbirds “probably need to do something about it. I’m assuming their ashamed.”

Johnson added that the tournament “has been inappropriate and crossed the line since I’ve been on tour and this is my 21st year.” Then he pointed out that he, along with the rest of the field, chooses to play in the tournament.

Cozby acknowledged that the tournament “did not have a good Saturday” and vowed to make changes and “make this right.”

“Saturday at WM Phoenix Open in 2024,” Cozby said, “is going to end up being a turning point for our tournament and our organization to make our event better.”


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