This year will mark the 70th edition of the FBR Open. Yes, it’s just the second year that the tournament has been called the FBR Open, but really, the “Open” itself has been around for 69 years. And like a fine wine, the largest sporting event in Arizona and biggest “happening” on the PGA TOUR only gets better with age.
The first ever Open was played in 1932 at Phoenix Country Club, with Ralph Guldahl taking the first championship and the $600 prize. Just to put things into perspective, last year’s champ, Jonathan Kaye, took home $936,000 for his efforts.
The tournament rotated between the Phoenix Country Club and Arizona Country Club for 51 years before moving over to the TPC of Scottsdale in 1987, where the last 18 tournaments have been played. Over the years, the Open has produced a prestigious group of champions, including Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Johnny Miller, Ben Crenshaw, Tom Lehman, Mark Calcavecchia, Vijay Singh and Phil Mickelson, just to name a few.
The 2004 version of the FBR Open was spectacular once again, with Phil Mickelson, Chris DiMarco and Valley resident Kaye battling back and forth down the stretch of the back nine on the final day. Huge crowds flocked to the TPC of Scottsdale like usual, as more than 500,000 fans (the second-most ever at the Open) enjoyed the fun, the sun, and of course, the fantastic golf.
The 2005 edition should be no exception. Kaye will be back to defend his title, and the field of players will be topnotch, as it always is, vying for the $5.2 million prize purse ($936,000 going to the winner).
But as those who have attended the Open in the past are well aware, it’s not just about golf. It’s an event like no other, and among all PGA TOUR stops, the Open is the best attended and one of the most electric of all golf tournaments.
Ever hear the saying, “I went to a fight and a hockey game broke out”? Well, at the FBR Open, a similar saying goes, “I went to a party and a golf match broke out.” The spectators aren’t your usual quiet, reserved golf fans. On the contrary, these galleries roar with excitement and cheer on their favorite golfers throughout the tournament like they are cheering on their favorite team in the Super Bowl. And nowhere is that excitement more evident than on Hole No. 16.
At first glance, 16 looks like a typical par-3. It plays just 162 yards and there’s nothing really tricky about it. But ask the PGA players themselves, and some will say it is one of the most nerve-wracking holes to play on TOUR. That’s because before the first drive is hit on the first day of play, thousands of fans camp around the 16th hole to reserve a spot, waiting to judge each and every player as they pass through. A quality shot will send the crowd into a screaming frenzy, but missing the green may just send out a chorus of boos that can reverberate throughout the entire course.
The hole has always been special, but Tiger Woods really put No. 16 on the map. In 1996, his first appearance in the Open, Woods knocked in a dramatic ace to provide an ESPN highlight reel for the ages and one of the most exciting moments in the tournament’s history.
But the FBR Open isn’t just for the “fanatical” fan and being a screaming lunatic is not the only way to enjoy the tournament. Many fans like to camp out at some of the less crowded holes and watch each and every player coming through, while others like to pick out their favorite golfer and follow him the entire day. Others just come out to enjoy the great weather, sample the food and socialize with friends. Whatever it is you’re looking for in a golf tournament, the FBR Open has it all.
When you’re done watching golf, but not yet ready to go home, you can head out to the Birds Nest, the best “happy hour” or 19th hole on the PGA circuit. After a three-year experiment with moving the Birds Nest offsite to a larger venue, it’s going back to its roots and will be walking distance from the tournament entrance, in a smaller, more intimate setting. The atmosphere will still be the same though-–great music, good food and beverage, and overall good times for everybody.
Want one more reason to come out to the FBR Open? How about all the money the tournament raises for local charities. Millions of dollars of tournament proceeds have been generated and donated over the years ($30 million to be exact), and with the generous commitment from FBR and the help from the Thunderbirds, last year’s tournament donated a record $4.54 million to Valley charities.
The 2005 FBR Open will take place Jan. 31 – Feb. 6 at the TPC of Scottsdale. So mark it on your calendar or put it on your things-to-do list. But whatever you do, make sure you come out and experience the event firsthand and see why the FBR Open is considered “The Greatest Show on Grass.”