Longform

Par Tee On!

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So, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde now have separate pads. Sort of.

"It's a frickin' blast and we want it to stay that way," says tournament director John Perkinson as he barrels through the undulating TPC grounds on his golf cart. "We absolutely want to create an environment where the golfers are shown the utmost respect, but we also don't want to ever hurt the incredible atmosphere out here."

"The atmosphere at the Phoenix Open fits Phoenix," two-time Open winner and Ahwatukee resident Mark Calcavecchia tells New Times. "I hope the rest of the Tour never becomes like the Phoenix Open, but I would never want the Phoenix Open to turn into all the other tournaments, either."

For the most part, the troublemakers are you, the overly casual residents of Phoenix, as well as the euphoric winter golf junketeers who have made the Valley the new golf capital of the world (Maricopa County now has the most golf holes of any county on Earth).

The head troublemaker, then, is 90-year-old Bob Goldwater, the legendary booster/reveler who, with the help of his garishly costumed frat buddies in the Thunderbirds, began the Phoenix Open more than 60 years ago as a free-spirited little advertisement showing Americans the joys of living in the Valley of the Sun.

In essence, the Phoenix Open is not just a rowdy old golf tournament. It is the longest-running and one of the most influential advertisements and vision statements for the Valley of the Sun. And some argue that the city of Phoenix would not be both thriving and sprawling without the help of Bob Goldwater, the Phoenix Open and the philosophy of golf populism they championed.

"The Phoenix Open is a direct reflection of this city," Perkinson says. "I see that as a great thing. But I would guess some people don't."


"Oh, holding the Open wasn't a big idea," Bob Goldwater says as he gives a tour of the celebrity golf photos in his Scottsdale home. "It was just a fun little idea that kept growing and growing and growing until it got big."

Most of the photos -- Bob and Bing, Bob and Bob Hope and Bob Jones, Bob and Every Bob That Mattered -- hang in the hallway and in what Goldwater calls his "pit of nostalgia," a bright, airy den overlooking a lush yard that backs up the golf course of the Phoenician, the impeccably swanky resort built by junk financier Charles Keating.



In his yard sits a synthetic pitch-and-putt green peppered with several dozen Top Flite balls. Goldwater, lean and remarkably agile at 90, scoops up a ball and tosses it high into the air. It lands on the green with a dull thud and stops.

"See, if it was Astro Turf, that ball would have shot up and run off the green," he says. "But with this stuff, the ball sticks like on a real green. It's neat, isn't it?"

Goldwater and his brother, Barry, learned the game from their mother, who, after moving to the Valley from Chicago to remedy respiratory problems, became one of the top female amateur golfers in the Southwest. The boys were regulars at the elite Phoenix Country Club and both Barry and Bob soon became scratch golfers.

And, as they continued the expansion of the family department store, the brothers also became civic leaders.



In the 1930s, the Phoenix Chamber of Commerce's major civic event was a Southwestern-themed festival called the Fiesta del Sol. The event lost money each year and was a copy of countless such festivals throughout the Western United States. In the late 1930s, Bob Goldwater and some friends had a better idea. The chamber should put on a lively professional golf tournament that coincided with the dead of the northern winter.

The chamber could build on a little pro-am the Goldwaters and friends had started at the Phoenix Country Club back in the early 1930s (Barry and pro Ky Laffoon teamed up to win the first tournament).

The plan was simple: Lure great golfers with the promise of great weather, great fun and a great hospitality in the atmosphere of a laid-back, fun-loving Western town.

A top field would draw national sportswriters who would send back dispatches describing top-shelf golf played in four straight days of sunny 70-degree weather. Those stories would reach depressed golf nuts in Chicago and Des Moines and other northern cities as they sat imprisoned by the bleakest stretch of midwinter.

And so the name Phoenix would become synonymous with winter salvation through golf.

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Robert Nelson