Phoenix Open weathers the storm with help from local pros
What do you get when you combine the big-circus atmosphere with the PGA tour? Although not historically known for big-top style events, every year the PGA lets its hair down for the event which has earned its moniker as The “Biggest Show on Grass” a.k.a. The Waste Management Phoenix Open. This anything but the typical PGA tour event isn’t your mild mannered, palm-clap, moneyed event, with over 200,000 spectators each day and stretching across an estimated 7 square miles of eating, drinking and golfing and parking, the Phoenix Open is a logistical marvel.
An annual fundraiser, the $25 general attendance is all but unlimited. Crowds funnel in early beginning their day with bloody mary’s while staking claim to their perch on the greens. Known for their impromptu beer-induced chants (particularly at the 16th hole) and ability to continue the party throughout the evening at the post-party Bird’s Nest, the multitudes have a reputation for being rowdy. While the party-like atmosphere is allowed and even encouraged by the organizers, there is an admitted fine line between having fun and downright obnoxious. Its up to the security staff at PRO EM to make the call between heavy-handedness and safety, but after 8 years they have it down to a science and event organizers continue to rely on their crowd control. According to Tony Wetjen, head of Phoenix Open security for PRO EM, their goal is to ensure that spectators respect the game, the golfers and one another. But as the local boy Phil Mickelson approaches the notorious 16th hole, spectators in the stadium-style seating, a man in a red shirt heckles “Black is slimming!” with reference to Phil’s all-black attire. Tony rolls his eyes and tells me about the group of men from Minnesota who descend on the Phoenix Open each year in matching red shirts, they goad the golfers and spectators alike to remember why the Phoenix Open is so famous: a good time. Wonder if red is slimming in Minnesota?
The 800 PRO EM staff working during an event that Andrea Foster, Marketing Communications Manager of PRO EM, calls the biggest annual event in the Phoenix area, come from a database of over 1200. The recruiting for staff is year ‘round with PRO EM training new security, performing background checks and cross training positions for each and every staff member.
But it isn’t those easy-to-come-by general entry passes that event and golf aficionados covet, the big ticket is in the one of the many luxurious tents lining the fairways at the Scottsdale TPC. There are over 300,000 square feet of tents and semi permanent structures built exclusively for the Phoenix Open; also provided by PRO EM since combining forces with Arizona Tents and Events in 2008. Over 30,000 square feet is dedicated to the expo space, but many of the structures provide sponsors and their guests with excellent viewing and comfortable surroundings, including tiered stadium seating, space heaters, linen covered tables, and flat paneled TV’s showing the day’s Olympic events.
While scaffolding and tent set-up for the Phoenix Open begins approximately two and a half months in advance, when the PRO EM crew commandeers the Scottsdale TPC links and begins working through weather, holiday weekends and errant golf balls, this year it wasn’t the set-up, or even the 7-day security-parking-tenting-logistics extravaganza that the Phoenix Open has become, that provided the biggest challenge.
Despite the guys in the red shirts, this year, it was Mother Nature heckling event organizers and the PRO EM event services team. Wind gusts of up to 50 miles per hour combined with almost an inch of rain hit the Phoenix area the night before the final round. While there is always staff on-site over night, the winds and rain required all hands on deck. As Brady Castro, Vice President of Operations says: “It looked like a war zone out here, but, because of our resources, we had the staff we needed to get out here and clean it up.” Beginning at about 1AM, PRO EM staff, including CEO Bradley Kramer, descended on the TPC course, to re-set all of the wind-swept equipment. With tables and chairs blown around the course, along with cushions, umbrellas and space heaters, the PRO EM staff scrambled to recollect equipment and reassess the damage. Winds were strong enough to bend a flag pole about 30 degrees and upend a 50 foot gabled footbridge, but tents and scaffolding stayed solid and by the time spectators arrived, they were none the wiser for the disaster the previous night.
The 2010 event proved that it isn’t just the golfers who have to bring their “A” game to survive the Phoenix Open.