By Jessica Lazo
PHOENIX – Children aren’t a common sight at PGA tournaments, but their presence is undeniable at the WM Phoenix Open.
“We always say it’s for the kids,” said Life Thunderbird member Dan Fox.
The Thunderbirds, an 85-year-old, community-based, nonprofit organization, funnel all proceeds from the tournament to children and families in the valley in hopes for a better quality of life.
The organization continues to tackle common societal challenges within the Phoenix area.
“It’ll be really huge because there’s so much need in our community right now with homelessness, hunger and education issues,” said Life Thunderbird member and former Diamondbacks President Rich Dozer.
Local organizations that benefit from the tournament include, but are not limited to, Special Olympics Arizona, the Boys and Girls Club, St. Mary’s Food Bank and cancer camp programs in Arizona.
“Probably the most dynamic impact of the open is the amount of money we raise,” Fox said. “So, when we’re all done and the last putt drops, there will be $15-20 million raised for charity.”
The corporate boxes and suites bordering the course were especially helpful throughout the fundraising process.
“When we look and say what is the most impactful, corporations come in a big way,” Fox said. “There was an overwhelming response from people trying to be here for sponsorship, so we’ll raise a lot of money through that.”
The chaos at the 16th hole is also believed to be an extremely beneficial area for receiving charitable funds. WM Phoenix Open Chairman Michael Golding described the hole as the “philanthropic machine.”
“The Phoenix Open really started to gain a massive impact when the 16th hole (gained popularity),” Golding said. “It’s substantial.”
The tournament’s influence on tourism has also been a huge contributor in securing funds for Phoenix charities.
“We have this on television for the rest of the world, especially people in places where it’s 20 degrees, and it’s 80 degrees out here, so people will want to come to Arizona in March,” Dozer said.
From hosting only 5,000 attendees last year due to COVID-19 restrictions, to coming back to full capacity in 2022, the Thunderbirds are expecting the outcome in fundraising numbers to be significantly higher.
“We bring a lot of money to our community through tourism, and we give a ton back to charity, so it’s a really great event,” Dozer said.
Jessica Lazo is in the sports media specialization at Medill. You can follow her on Twitter at @jesslaz0.