WM Phoenix Open: What exactly are The Thunderbirds?

If you’ve ever watched the Waste Management Phoenix Open, you’re likely familiar with the lore of the tournament. The raucous party atmosphere. The gorgeous desert views. The stadium build around the par-3 16th. There aren’t many events that garner interest quite like the WM Phoenix Open.

But with a history dating back to 1932, there’s more to the event than just its contemporary fame. And that includes the organization behind the tournament: The Thunderbirds.

If you don’t know much about The Thunderbirds, you’re forgiven. In the Phoenix area, the organization is well-known and well-respected, but nationally, many golf fans are unfamiliar with the group.

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The Thunderbirds are the philanthropic organization that puts on the WM Phoenix Open every year.

“We are a civic group that started in 1937,” Chance Cozby, the group’s executive director, said on GOLF’s Subpar. “The Phoenix Chamber of Commerce grabbed five business leaders and said, ‘We need a group to promote the Valley of the Sun through sport.’ And those five were asked to go get 10 of their friends, and that’s where the number 55 started.”

To this day, there are only 55 members of The Thunderbirds; it’s an elite membership in the Phoenix area. Bob Goldwater, one of the founding members, decided the group should host a golf tournament, and so the Phoenix Open was born.

“Really that’s what got our organization off the ground and running,” Cozby said. “And now we’re about to host our 88th Phoenix Open. But at the end of the day, it’s a group of local and successful people that have time to give back — give their time, give their energy.

“It’s a charitable organization that — our only driving force is Thunderbird Charity. So how we work is all year we spend putting this golf tournament on, and our fiscal year ends at the end of May, and we take all the proceeds from our tournament and their moved over to Thunderbird Charity, and we have a 15-person board with community leaders on that board that decide where all that money goes … And we’ve given over $166 million as a direct result of the WM Phoenix Open.”

The Thunderbirds might put on the WM Phoenix Open, but their impact on the community stretches far beyond.

Check out the entire episode of Subpar below.


Zephyr Melton

Golf.com Editor

Zephyr Melton is an assistant editor for GOLF.com where he spends his days blogging, producing and editing. Prior to joining the team at GOLF, he attended the University of Texas followed by stops with the Texas Golf Association, Team USA, the Green Bay Packers and the PGA Tour. He assists on all things instruction and covers amateur and women’s golf. He can be reached at zephyr_melton@golf.com.