A TRIBUTE TO TOM WEISKOPF – TPC SCOTTSDALE’S DESIGNER AND FRIEND OF “THE PEOPLE’S OPEN”
Not to start off too heroic, but many extraordinary people and organizations have their fingerprints on the WM Phoenix Open. There’s The Thunderbirds, hosts and stewards of the event who have dedicated much of their lives to raising money for Arizona charities through the world’s best-attended golf tournament – raising more than $176 million in the process. There’s title sponsor WM, who had the initiative to ensure the best-attended sporting event in America sent not one single piece of trash to the landfill, creating the largest zero-waste event in history 10 years running. There’s the Big Cat, Tiger Woods himself, who first raised the roof in celebration of his ace at 16. Golf would never be the same. And there’s the fans in the stands, whose vigor, enthusiasm, cheers and boos built a platform and the loudest hole in golf.
But one often overlooked contributor to the grounds of TPC Scottsdale, on which so many great things were built, was the designer of the course itself – Tom Weiskopf – who, in partnership with Jay Morrish, laid the foundation for “The People’s Open” as we know it today.
Weiskopf had a stellar career as a PGA TOUR player, winning 16 times including a major title – the 1973 Open Championship at Royal Troon –before moving to the broadcast booth and eventually to a career as one of the most respected golf course designers of his generation.
One of the most significant contributions of Tom Weiskopf’s golf course design philosophy was the reintroduction of drivable par 4s to American golf. These short but challenging holes, where scores from 2 to 7 are common, were popular during the early 20th century but lost favor among mid-century architects. Weiskopf made a habit of including at least one on practically every course he designed, often at crucial points on the back nine. And without a doubt, Weiskopf’s most famous short par 4 is right here at “The People’s Open” – the famous 17th at TPC Scottsdale – the home of the only par-4 ace in PGA TOUR history (Andrew Magee, 2001).
Another large impact on the game from designer Weiskopf was his effort to build and continue the idea of “stadium golf” which eliminated a spectator viewing problem on more “traditional,” flat golf courses of the mid-20th century. While the first of the PGA TOUR’s six “stadium” courses was TPC Sawgrass, designed by famed architect Pete Dye, Weiskopf continued the tradition at TPC Scottsdale, completing the course in 1985 with the first-ever WM Phoenix Open played at TPC Scottsdale coming just two years later in 1987.
Obviously, the idea of “stadium” golf is a little different these days due to another famous hole at TPC Scottsdale with a “stadium feel,” the par-3 16th. Although it’s the shortest on the course – and relatively benign by professional standards – it’s arguably the most nerve-racking tee shot of the entire year on TOUR thanks to the nearly 17,000 passionate fans lining what is now known as “The Coliseum.”
With regard to the now iconic 16th hole at TPC Scottsdale, designer Tom Weiskopf once said, “The only credit I can give myself is where I located the hole.”
To be fair to a master and his craft, we respectfully disagree. It’s much more important than that.
Tom Weiskopf passed away August 20, 2022, at the age of 79, succumbing to the pancreatic cancer he had fought towards the end of his life. But he will always have a special place in the hearts of golf fans, especially those who come through the gates of TPC Scottsdale at the WM Phoenix Open.