Phoenix Open Preview: No Tiger? No Problem

By Rebecca Larsen, Contributor

SCOTTSDALE, AZ - Imagine a Major League Baseball game where you, as a spectator, can sit inside the field and watch from about a dozen yards away from first base. That's the kind of up-close and personal feeling you can get going to a golf tournament, and much more so at the Phoenix Open than at many other tournaments.

The reason why, of course, is that the TPC (Tournament Players Club) Stadium Course in Scottsdale where the Open will be held Thursday through Sunday, Jan. 24-27, was deliberately designed to draw the audience into the game. "What other sport is there where you can get so close to your favorite players?" says Jeff Blaugrund, Publicity Director for the tournament which is put on by the Thunderbirds, a local charity group.

The crowd of 130-plus players to watch this year has about 100 of last year's top 125 money winners on the tour. In the field are David Duval, Davis Love and Justin Leonard. Several young players who are being touted as up-and-comers will also tee it up this week, including Britain's Paul Casey, 24, an Arizona State grad who was European rookie of the year in 2001, and Ty Tryon, 17, who was the youngest golfer in PGA Tour history to earn a tour card. Tryon did it at qualifying school in November.

Several former Phoenix Open champs will return: Mark Calcavecchia (2001, 1992, 1989), Tom Lehman (2000), Rocco Mediate (1999), Jesper Parnevik (1998) and Lee Janzen (1993). Phil Mickelson, who won the Phoenix Open in 1996 and led off his tour this year with Sunday's victory at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic, will be a big favorite because of his close ties to Phoenix; he's an Arizona State graduate.

The biggest name won't be there: Tiger Woods. Last year, he entered the Open at the last minute, but not this year. Scott Henderson, Tournament Chairman for the Thunderbirds, said he's not surprised. "Tiger has commitments to play in the next four tournaments, the AT&T, the Buick, the Nissan and the Match-Play Championships. Doing Phoenix, too, would have been tough for him. it would have been too many tournaments in a row."

Tournament organizers have some suggestions for getting the most out of your experience at the Phoenix Open. "If you're coming to a tournament for the first time and it was any other tournament than this, I'd suggest that you'd better find a good spot early and just stay there," Blaugrund says. "Here, there are untold numbers of good places to see things. There are many more mounds and bumps and seating areas."

Pebble Beach in California, for example, is a magnificent course with fabulous views of ocean and trees, but you really have to walk forever and search out the right place to see golfers, who often seem miles away.

Some of the most popular holes for watching the action at the Phoenix Open are:

No. 15 where a large lake on the lefthand side puts water in play on almost every shot, including the final pitch out to an island green. Despite the water, this is ranked as the easiest hole because it's a short par 5, 501 yards. This hole has acres of gently sloping grass on the righthand side where you can sit and eat lunch.

No. 16, a 162-yard par 3, that is one of the most famous holes on the course due to the fact that Tiger Woods made a hole-in-one there in 1997. Actually, other pros have done the same, including Steve Stricker who also did it in 1997 and won a car because he did it on Sunday. Because this hole is so popular with fans, the Thunderbirds have installed a huge new bank of seats this year to create a v-shape, inside of which the golfers tee off.

No. 17, a 332-yard par 4, with lots of water and sand hazards around the green. This is a hole where eagles are a real possibility.

No. 18, a 438-yard par 4, that makes for a dramatic finish to the tournament. This hole, too, is flanked by a lake. There are lots and lots of bleachers here and also a huge, long path stretching from tee to green that allows for thousands and thousands of fans to watch the action, virtually unobstructed. Even if you get to this hole at the last minute on the last day, you'll be able to see the last pitches and putts.

But there are dozens of "right" places to sit or stand at the Phoenix Open, even though, as Blaugrund noted, more than 400,000 spectators are expected to come see the tournament this week. Those huge crowds, believed to be among the biggest on the PGA Tour, are also part of what makes the Phoenix Open such a fun event to attend. People watching here is stupendous - especially the crowds of young singles who often show up on the first two days. The fans can be a bit boisterous at times, especially rooting for the hometown heroes like Lehman and Mickelson, but by Sunday, when the playing gets serious, the crowds seem to settle down.

The Phoenix Open has a lot to offer those spectators including: a Golf Expo center where you can compete in a free putting course, look over new golf clubs or try out a massage chair; free child care for two hours each day on a space-available basis; and the Open's famous Birds Nest, a post-tournament entertainment spot, which this year features such groups as Dennis Quaid and the Sharks, the Goo Goo Dolls and Duck Soup. There are also the usual tons of golf shirts and hats for sale and plenty of places to buy lunch.

If you've ever been to the Phoenix Open before, you'll probably notice more security on the scene than usual, similar to what has been happening at other sporting events around the country since Sept. 11, 2001.

"Our intent was not to make the TPC into a fortress though," says Scott Henderson of the Thunderbirds. "If you came out here and you hadn't read about the security before, you wouldn't even know what was going on. But there is definitely a heightened awareness."

There are more fences and tougher checks of belongings. In fact, leave large purses and backpacks at home, or you might have to check them. There are also clear trashbags, instead of enclosed containers; a ban on cell phones is being strictly enforced. "But there are about a half dozen places with free cell phones inside the grounds where you can call home if you have to," Henderson said.

Want to see the Open?

The Phoenix Open will open at 7:50 a.m. Thursday, January 24, and Friday, January 25. Tee times are to be announced for the third and fourth rounds, Saturday, January 26, and Sunday, January 27. The Tournament Players Course, where the Open is held, is located north of Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard on the Greenway Hayden Loop in Scottsdale. There is lots of free public parking in the area on Scottsdale Road near the Loop 101 and at Westworld on nearby Pima Road with shuttles to the tournament gate. Tickets are $20 a day (children 17 and under are free accompanied by an adult) and are always available at the gate.

The Birds Nest Entertainment Tent is located at Westworld on Pima Road just north of Frank Lloyd Wright. This is a major parking area for the Open so shuttles run back and forth here from the TPC. The tent opens at 4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. Admission is only $5 with that day's Phoenix Open ticket; otherwise $10 before 6 p.m. and $20 after 6. For more information, visit the Open's home page:

Where to eat after the Open?

After a hard day of walking miles and watching other people hit balls, you're going to be hungry. Dining out in Scottsdale during Phoenix Open week can be a frazzling and expensive experience. Here's a little advice and a few places to eat that are a bit off the beaten path. We've picked casual places where two people can eat out for less than $50, not including wine or beer.

First of all, remember that people in Scottsdale-Phoenix tend to dine early. So either get there earlier than they do - perhaps on the way back from the TPC - or later in the evening. Lots of restaurants don't take reservations, which can mean hour-long waits for a table at their busiest times. But if you call just before you leave the house, some of them will put your name on the list, so that your wait will be shorter. It's best to call ahead to find out what's the best plan.

Nick's, 13910 N. Frank Lloyd Wright Blvd., in a shopping center at 100th Street, Scottsdale. Phone: 480-314-9445. Nick's is an Italian restaurant with great salads and lots of customers. You bring your own bottle of chianti; they don't serve wine. But the corkage fee is only $1.50 per glass.

Flo's Asian Kitchen, 16495 N. Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale, on the west side of the Promenade Shopping Center, at Scottsdale Road and Frank Lloyd Wright. Phone: 480-609-9888. Flo's is an innovative place where you can have dishes from various Asian countries. For example: spicy chicken and rock shrimp with peanuts and chiles from China; Bangkok-style green curried chicken, beef and bay scallops from Thailand; or flame grilled lemon grass beef with jungle chiles and vermicelli. Be sure to go here with a group and sample four or five parts of the world.

Flo's also has another restaurant featuring strictly Chinese dishes, but with the same unusual blends of ingredients. Flo's Chinese Cuisine is located at 14850 N. Frank Lloyd Wright Blvd., Scottsdale. Phone: 480-661-8883.

NYPD Pizza, 10433 N. Scottsdale Road, near Shea, Scottsdale. Phone: 480-609-8666. This is one of North Scottsdale's favorite pizza places. Start out with the Greek salad.

The Village Tavern, 8777 N. Scottsdale Road, in the Gainey Village shopping center, Scottsdale. Phone: 480-951-6445. Sit in the bar, have beer and crab cakes and watch highlights of the day's golf on the TV sets while you eat. This place is likely to be a bit more crowded because of its location on the main drag. But there are two other restaurants in the same shopping center: Garduno's Margarita Factory (480-607-2222) with Mexican food and wild decor and Thaifoon, an upscale Thai spot (480-998-0011).

Where to golf?

A visit to the Phoenix Open can be more fun if you play some of the local courses yourself, according to Jeff Blaugrund. Here are some possibilities:

The Thunderbirds group that runs the Phoenix Open has opened its own course, the Thunderbirds Golf Club in the South Mountain area of Phoenix. Some of the proceeds of this brand-new desert-style course, 7,013-yards from the championship tees, go to the group's charitable causes. Pro Tom Lehman was a consultant on this course. Foursomes can play for $59 per player during the Phoenix Open. Thunderbirds Golf Club is located at 701 E. Thunderbird Trail, Phoenix. Phone: 602-305-7755. Log onto

The very popular Wildfire Golf Club has two courses now. Besides the original Arnold Palmer-designed course (7,170 yards from the back tees), there's a new course designed by Nick Faldo. The Faldo course is a bit shorter and has more than 80 bunkers. Call 800-767-3574. Address: 5225 E. Pathfinder Drive, Phoenix, AZ 85054.

If you're pressed for time, try Marriott's Mountain Shadows Golf Club executive course. It's an 18-hole, par 56 course, that measures 3,081 yards from the back tees. It's a great place to go with the family. Mountain Shadows is located at 5641 E. Lincoln Drive, Scottsdale. Phone: 480-951-5427. Another executive course, the Continental Golf Club, has 18 holes (par 60) and is 3,766 yards long. It's located at 7920 E. Osborn Road, Scottsdale. Phone: 800-767-3574.

Rebecca LarsenRebecca Larsen, Contributor

Rebecca Larsen is a former features and assistant features editor for the Marin Independent Journal, a medium-sized daily paper located north of San Francisco. She has also worked for the Milwaukee Journal and for a Chicago public relations firm. She has a bachelor's in journalism from Northwestern University and a master's from the University of California at Berkeley.

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