Hole, yeah: The 2021 Waste Management Phoenix Open

While the Stadium Course — and its famously festive 16th hole — won’t be as lively, the TPC Scottsdale crew still has the grounds in crowd-pleasing form.


Waste Management Phoenix Open
Stadium Course first assistant Scott Hebert on Stimpmeter duty Jan. 31. TPC Scottsdale was designed by Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish and has hosted a Tour event since 1987. Weiskopf oversaw a course redesign in 2014. The greens are TifEagle bermudagrass overseeded with Poa trivialis/perennial ryegrass, and the fairways and rough are bermudagrass overseeded with perennial ryegrass and fine fescue. Photos by Howard Richman

Blake Meentemeyer was in observation mode the morning of Jan. 31, a sunny, quieter-than-usual Sunday for this time of year at TPC Scottsdale.

As he watched crew members tend to a flurry of ball marks on the Stadium’s Course’s par-3 16th hole — arguably one of the most famous non-major-championship holes — Meentemeyer described what the scene usually looks like during the PGA Tour’s Waste Management Phoenix Open. “On Saturday (during the tournament), our team will be working on that hole, and there already will be a full house of fans at 7 a.m. watching them. It creates a great energy for us,” says Meentemeyer, director of golf course maintenance operations at TPC Scottsdale and a 17-year GCSAA member.

Indeed, spectators typically line up starting at 5:30 a.m. to enter the gates of the signature hole, known as “The Coliseum” because of the skyboxes and grandstands that fully enclose it. It’s also known for being quite the party, the rowdy atmosphere lending itself to boisterous boos for errant shots and resounding cheers for quality ones.

For an idea of the vibe, here’s Tiger Woods recording an ace on No. 16 in 1997:

But is anything “typical” anymore? The serenity on Sunday was just one sign things are going to be different at this year’s WMPO. Usually, golfers arrive that day for practice rounds. This year, though, they were all being tested for COVID-19. All members of Meentemeyer’s staff get a temperature check when they arrive at work. “We’ve done all the safety protocols,” says Meentemeyer, who previously worked as a USGA agronomist and superintendent at Torrey Pines’ South Course in San Diego. “We’ve fared well.”

Spectators will have their temperatures checked before they enter the gates. This year, spectator totals will be limited to 5,000 daily. On past Saturdays at the WMPO, an estimated 250,000 have been in attendance, including the 20,000 stationed at No. 16, which is minus a third-tier loge given the reduction in fans.

Blake Meentemeyer
Blake Meentemeyer, TPC Scottsdale director of golf course maintenance operations, on the Stadium Course’s par-3 16th hole, the center of attention at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, a PGA Tour event that will begin Thursday, Feb. 4.

Fewer on-site fans is also why 12 fewer acres were overseeded. Stadium Course superintendent Heath Booker will breathe a bit easier this week because of the reduced traffic. “I try to make sure our crew is safe, because there are so many people out there,” says Booker, a 13-year association member. “The stress level won’t be as intense, and it allows us to concentrate more on the golf course.”

The WMPO, which last year raised more than $14 million for Arizona charities, has been dubbed by some “The Greatest Show on Grass.” Asked whether the label creates added pressure to produce, Booker says he prefers to see it all as simply business as usual. “We’re not reinventing the wheel. We’re doing things everybody else is doing, the same things the mom and pop courses do,” he says.

One noticeable feature that is standard of the WMPO will be the look of ryegrass fairways. “We like to see the stripe lines throughout the golf course,” Booker says. “It’s all about the presentation.”

Maintenance practices were tweaked in some spots, including on No. 16. “We did some different seed types, a little more fescue, for shade tolerance. We have indirect sunlight, but no direct sunlight,” Booker says.

Heath Booker TPC Scottsdale
Stadium Course superintendent Heath Booker, a North Carolina State graduate, is in his sixth year at TPC Scottsdale. Booker’s crew will be supplemented this week by 24 volunteers from the region. That’s about eight fewer volunteers than in most years.

2021 Waste Management Phoenix Open
TPC Scottsdale’s Stadium Course looks in top shape following what was the hottest summer on record in Arizona. An impressive field will be on display for the 2021 Waste Management Phoenix Open, including past major champions Gary Woodland, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas.

Also different this year: The adjacent Champions Course, overseen by lead assistant Julio Riojas, will be open for guests. Because there are fewer corporate activities this week — which normally spill over onto Champions — it’s available for play.

And as one bit of further proof that this won’t be an ordinary WMPO, Meentemeyer will be participating in the 2021 Golf Industry Show, an event he often misses given that it usually falls during WMPO week. This year, however, he prerecorded an education session on water-use best management practices and plans to do the Q&A portion of it live on Thursday, which coincides with the first round of the WMPO.

If there is any given nowadays, Meentemeyer can take comfort in knowing he can count on the entire TPC Scottsdale staff to turn out championship conditions — whether it’s this week or any of the other 51 weeks — while he handles his virtual GIS duties. Plus, Collier Miller, TPC director of agronomy, is on hand.

“We’ve got some people (seven of them) who’ve been here 30 years (or more). We know what to do, what to expect, and bring a lot of energy,” Meentemeyer says. “Like every year, there’s a lot of moving parts. It will all come together.”

Howard Richman is GCM’s associate editor.