SEP. 20, 2023
Story written by Candace Oehler and published in Forbes
PHOENIX, AZ (September 20, 2023) – Super Week in the Valley of the Sun always begins with the iconic WM Phoenix Open, presented by Taylor Morrison. The 2024 edition of “The People’s Open” will take place Feb. 5-11 at TPC Scottsdale, marking the 89th playing of the event, and 15th with WM as title sponsor. Always popular with the pros, the WM Phoenix Open has been named Tournament of the Year by the PGA TOUR four times.
Apart from the opportunity to watch top TOUR pros compete, the WM Phoenix Open has earned a justifiable reputation as a massive party, especially at the Par-3, 16thhole, where 20,000 raucous spectators a day cheer and jeer the good, bad and ugly shots. Astonishing numbers of patrons somehow manage to navigate the golf course, tasty beverages in hand, generally without tripping, slipping or otherwise injuring themselves or others.
Saturday is known as “moving day,” but at WMPO, the only people who can actually move are inside the ropes. The crush of people makes getting anywhere nearly impossible and some areas, especially around holes 16, 17 and 18, nearly impassable.
Attendance in 2018, the last year official statistics were provided, was a staggering 719,000. In 2023, the Thunderbirds finally capped ticket sales for Friday and Saturday, posting “Sold Out” notices for the first time.
Throughout the week of organized havoc, official tournament hosts The Thunderbirds are ubiquitous, their enormous silver pendants glinting in the sun, accessorizing their distinctive long-sleeved, navy velour tunic top uniforms. Stacks of $2 bills poking out of their pockets are “Tipping Twos,” a unique tradition members of the fraternal service club initiated to distribute tips to servers and other tournament workers.
Their outfits may draw bemused glances, especially on blistering 90-degree days, but The Thunderbirds’ philanthropic impact on local communities, through Thunderbirds Charities, is truly jaw-dropping.
Recently, the organization declared that a record $14.5 million was raised from the 2023 WM Phoenix Open, easily eclipsing the $10.5 million raised in 2022. The announcement was made at Fresh Start Women’s Foundation, where a $125,000 donation was made to the organization that “empowers women with resources and counseling to achieve self-sufficiency and thrive.”
The most recent donation to Fresh Start will help fund the new Thunderbirds Charities Family Law Support Center.
Said Kim McWaters, Fresh Start president and CEO, “We are immensely grateful to The Thunderbirds for their unwavering support of Fresh Start’s mission and the women and families we serve. Together, we are transforming lives and building a brighter future for us all.”
The Thunderbirds and the WM Phoenix Open have raised nearly $125 million in the 14 years of WM’s title sponsorship. In the tournament’s 88-year history, more than $190 million has been raised and distributed to local non-profits that focus on sports, health, education, the arts, social services, and improving the lives of children and families.
Scott Bradley, WM Four Corners Area vice president, commented on the magnitude of reaching such a milestone.
“The effect this tournament has on the community in benefiting hundreds of Arizona charities and thousands of individuals is absolutely incredible and is a point of pride for WM.”
The Thunderbirds were founded in 1937 with the mission of promoting the Valley of the Sun through sports. Thunderbird Charities was established to manage and distribute funds raised through events, particularly the WM Phoenix Open.
In a unique organizational concept, the group is limited to just 55 active members who, at the age of 45, transition to Life Members. The status change enables members to still remain involved, but brings in younger members who have the opportunity to assume leadership positions. Total membership is estimated at approximately 350.
They don’t know it, but the thousands of spectators who attend the WM Phoenix Open and the ancillary events like the Coors Light Birds Next concerts play an key role in supporting Valley charities. And chances are, either they or someone they know has benefitted at some point from Thunderbirds Charities.
Story written by Candace Oehler and published in Forbes.
Fresh Start’s mission is to provide access and resources that help women achieve self-sufficiency and use their strength to thrive. Our ultimate vision is to create unlimited opportunities for women. Over three decades, Fresh Start has supported more than 50,000 Arizona women, serving approximately 3,000 women each year. 86% are mothers, 60% are single mothers and 64% are women of color. Fresh Start offers focused programs, services, access to training and education, as well as employment and career services to help women reach their personal and professional goals. For more information, visit freshstartwomen.org or connect with us on Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn.