By petedirenzo
Thursday, December 10, 2009

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.--The press conference to announce the new title sponsor for the Phoenix Open, the best party on the PGA Tour, was held here Wednesday afternoon in the TPC Scottsdale clubhouse--in the bar. Could that be any more appropriate?The PGA Tour and golf in general could use some good news right about now, and this was it. FBR, which was contractually obligated to hold the 2010 FBR Open, is out a year early as tournament sponsor. Waste Management is in, and in for the long haul. It will take over next year and host the tournament for at least six years, through 2015. For the record, the tournament's revised name is the Waste Management Phoenix Open.It's great to see Phoenix Open back in the title. The tournament will celebrate its 75th anniversary this year, and it has a strong identity. It's best known for big crowds--more than 100,000 annually show up for Saturday's festive round.  It's known for the par-3 16th hole, the loudest hole in golf and one whose entire length is nearly surrounded by grandstands and luxury suites. It's also known for its big parties. The concession area near the 10th tee is usually packed, and there's a separate party area known as the Bird's Nest that annually becomes the Phoenix area's hottest (and wildest) nightspot. A lot of golf observers never figured out what an FBR Open was. Bringing back the Phoenix Open name is a good move by Waste Management. The truth is, one long-time local media type told me, that the new tournament will be nicknamed the Wasted Open, because of the party atmosphere. "You can count on it," he told me.It will be an affectionate name, of course, and Waste Management seems hip enough not to be bothered by it. "They aren't saying anything we haven't already thought about," said John Felix, the outgoing Big Chief of the Thunderbirds, the charitable organization that runs the WM Phoenix Open. The Thunderbirds like to call their event The Greatest Show on Turf. That may be hyperbole, but it's true in regard to the tournament's amazing attendance.Times are tough in the Great Recession and the news about Waste Management is big for the PGA Tour. John Deere and Bridgestone recently re-upped as tournament sponsors. The tour is starting to build some positive momentum in the face of stark economic reality.Waste Management Inc. is based in Houston and provides waste management services in North America, and it is deep into the growing science of recycling and environmental solutions.Finding a sponsor is a relief for Felix, who'll shortly be leaving his position as Big Chief, which is a one-year job. He had to do double duty during his reign. Besides the daily tournament operations, he had to go hunting for a new title sponsor. Luckily, he found one. "Being Big Chief took a lot of time," Felix said. "It's very rewarding, but I'm glad I do it only once. When your term is up, you're ready to let the next guy take over."Felix knows what he'll be doing the minute he hands over the reigns. "I'm going to the Greenskeeper, one of our most famous venues, and order a beer and hope everyone ignores me for a little while. It's easy for past Big Chiefs to fade into anonymity, and I'm looking forward to that opportunity."The WM Phoenix Open will be played Feb. 22-28.

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