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Month Later Start Could Provide Economic Boost to Phoenix Open

The Arizona Republic, February 19, 2010

By Peter Corbett

Scottsdale sports fans typically are tracking the first pitches of spring training by now, but this year they will focus on golf and the long hitters of the PGA Tour.

A scheduling quirk has enabled the host Thunderbirds to play the Waste Management Phoenix Open next week, a month later than usual.

Defending champ Kenny Perry and 143 players will compete in the 75th Phoenix Open at the TPC Scottsdale.

“We’re just thrilled that everything has come together,” said David Rauch, tournament chairman. “We love our field (of players) and there's a lot of excitement over the date change, the 75th year of the tournament and our new sponsor.”

Houston-based Waste Management replaces FBR Capital Markets as the Open’s title sponsor after a seven-year run that included record crowds and $38 million in charitable contributions.

The tournament started in 1932 with a $2,500 purse at Phoenix Country Club, skipped three years from 1936-38 and resumed in 1939. It moved from Phoenix to the Stadium Course at the TPC Scottsdale in 1987.

Practice rounds and preliminary events for the 2010 Open start Monday with tournament play Thursday through Feb. 28. Daily tickets are $25.

Waste Management is putting its mark on the event with an emphasis on recycling and other measures to make the Open the greenest tournament on the PGA Tour as well as the best-attended.

Fans will find familiar and new venues for golf and people watching.

The rowdy coliseum that is the 16th hole is ringed by skyboxes, bleachers and a new daily ticket lounge with food and beverages included for $250 to $300 per day.

The lounge sold out as an alternative to buying a $40,000 skybox on No. 16, Rauch said.

Corporate Village has three fewer tents this year on the west side of the 18th fairway. That will allow space along the lake for a public beer garden.

The Tilted Kilt pub will host a beer garden perched above the 18th fairway on the eastern edge of the course.

Salty Senorita will operate a new food-and-beverage venue with good views of the greens at the second and ninth holes.

The course itself, unchanged for the golfers, is in great shape, according to Rauch, a Phoenix lawyer with Snell & Wilmer.

Longer days by about 50 minutes should keep the Open on schedule. And with good weather, the tournament’s attendance record of 538,356 in 2008 could fall.

This year’s final round on Sunday will not conflict with the Super Bowl, which could boost the gallery to as high as 120,000 fans, the tournament chairman said.

“There’s clearly a lot more energy and excitement without the distraction of the Super Bowl,” Rauch said. “Spring training is starting and there is more buzz in the air.”

The Open will move back to its late January start in 2011-12, but the Thunderbirds and Waste Management will lobby the PGA to move the event to late February when a new television contract is negotiated, Rauch said.

Waste Management and the Thunderbirds announced a six-year sponsorship deal in December. That agreement allowed FBR to end its commitment a year early.

William Chipps, senior editor of the “IEG Sponsorship Report,” said the Thunderbirds were fortunate to sign Waste Management in a tough environment for event sponsorships.

“Last year was brutal,” he said.

IEG reported that North American companies spent a combined $16.5 billion on sponsorships in 2009, a 0.6 percent decline from the previous year, and the first decline in the publication’s 25 years of tracking corporate donations.

Rauch said Waste Management’s participation will allow the Thunderbirds to continue its tradition of helping local charities. The Open has raised close to $66 million over 75 years.