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For Immediate Release: November 4, 2006                                                                         

Media Contact: Robert Myers 602-317-6131


Bob Goldwater, Sr., The Father of the FBR/Phoenix Open,
Passed Away Today at
Age 96


Phoenix, Ariz.Bob Goldwater, Sr., the Father of the FBR/Phoenix Open and member of The Thunderbirds civic organization, passed away this morning in Scottsdale. He was 96.

            “The Thunderbirds are deeply saddened by the death of Bob Goldwater, the Father of the FBR and Phoenix Open,” said Thunderbird Big Chief Mike Haenel. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to Bob’s wife Margaret and the entire Goldwater family. The 2007 FBR Open will mark the 72nd playing of this great golf tournament – all started by Mr. Goldwater. Throughout the years more than $43 million dollars has been raised for Arizona charities from the playing of his golf tournament. None of it would be possible if not for his vision and incredible work ethic. We’ve lost a legend, a friend, a mentor and a great guy. On behalf of more than 330 Active and Life Thunderbirds, we thank Bob Goldwater for making a difference in all of our lives.”

            Funeral services will be held on November 13th at 11am at Trinity Cathedral (1st Ave and Roosevelt). The family has asked in lieu of flowers, please make donations to Trans Mississippi or Hospice of the Valley.

            Mr. Goldwater was an “Active” Thunderbird from 1939 – 1953 and served as Phoenix Open Golf Tournament Chairman from 1934 – 1951. He also served as The Thunderbirds Big Chief (President) in 1943. He was born July 4, 1910.

            Goldwater was a boy phenom. At the age of 14, he was runner-up in the 1925 Arizona State Amateur Championship. He would go on to win that title, along with the Southwest Amateur tournament, three times apiece. In 1951, he beat the nation’s number one amateur, Charlie Coe, to capture the Broadmoor Invitational in Colorado Springs. He represented Arizona admirably in the U.S. Amateur. He played in more than 40 Bing Crosby Pro-Ams at Pebble Beach. He founded the state’s top team event pitting Arizona’s best amateurs against their professional counterparts in the Goldwater Cup.

Make no mistake, however: Bob Goldwater’s lasting legacy is that he is the “Father of the FBR/Phoenix Open.”

            “I believe it was about 1980, at one of the pro-am dinners, they had this banner that said ‘Bob Goldwater, Father of the Phoenix Open,’ said Goldwater in 1991. “Yes, I was very surprised, very honored.”

Bob Goldwater became an active Thunderbird in 1939, two years after the original 5 Thunderbirds were chosen. When The Thunderbirds expanded from their original 5 to 55 in early 1939, both Bob Goldwater and Barry Goldwater were asked to be members of The Thunderbirds.

Once Mr. Goldwater became a Thunderbird, he suggested to then Big Chief Ken Barton that the group resurrect the discontinued Phoenix Open golf tournament instead of hosting the Fiesta del Sol to produce more revenues. After some argument from the Big Chief and other Thunderbirds, a committee was appointed that included Mr. Goldwater to meet with the Chamber of Commerce and make suggestions on other events the group could host.

“None of us on the Thunderbirds wanted to do anything in the sports line,” said one of the original five Thunderbirds Milt Sanders in a 1950 interview.  “So we said that when the committee went before the Chamber, we’d agree to anything but a sports event.”

Bob Goldwater was the only Thunderbird who showed up for the meeting with the Chamber. He spoke so aggressively and persuasively for a golf tournament, and with no other Thunderbird present to argue against him, the tournament was approved by the Chamber.

“When he reported back, we were so peeved we made him do all the work,” said Sanders. “He printed the tickets, sold sponsorships and obtained the use of the Phoenix Country Club. Bob also brought in friends like Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan and the tournament succeeded.”

Nelson, in fact, went on to win the 1939 tournament over Hogan by 12 shots and took home $700 of the $3,000 purse and the modern-day Phoenix Open was born.

“I loved those early years,” said Goldwater in a 1984 interview. “I look back on those days with a sense of pride mixed with wonderment. We weren’t necessarily organized, but we always seemed to accomplish whatever was necessary to present a golf tournament.”

“I recall when we used to keep the galleries in line with bamboo poles. The big social event was a cookout at South Mountain Park and everyone showed up, pros included. When we needed a ruling on the course there weren’t any PGA officials on hand. We just sent a Thunderbird and told him, “Do your best.”

“In either 1939 or 1940, I recall we needed to raise $3,000 for the purse money. A bunch of us went into town (you have to remember that Phoenix Country Club was located WAY out on 7th St and Thomas) and spread the word to merchants that were going to be at a big party at the Club that evening. Everyone was invited. After dinner we made a pitch and raised half the purse money. The next day we hit the pavements and again cleaned it up.”

The 2007 FBR Open will mark the 72nd playing of the tournament in the Valley of the Sun. It has been played at Phoenix Country Club and Arizona Country Club as well as it’s current location at the TPC Scottsdale.  For more information on the FBR Open, please visit For more information on The Thunderbirds, please call 602-870-0163.


Additional Information:

Robert W. “Bob” Goldwater, Sr.

Active Thunderbird: 1939 – 1953

Golf Tournament Chairman: 1934 – 1951

Big Chief: 1943

Born: 7/4/1910

96-year old Bob Goldwater is known as the father of the FBR/Phoenix Open and is a member of The Thunderbirds civic organization.

Before becoming a Thunderbird, Mr. Goldwater served as the Tournament Chairman and participated in 1934 Phoenix Pro-Am, a two-man best ball golf tournament won by professional Ky Laffoon and amateur golfer and Bob’s brother Barry Goldwater (Bob Goldwater finished in 4th place in the Pro-Am). One year later, Goldwater again served as the Tournament Chairman of the 1935 Phoenix Open (a 72-hole event won by Ky Laffoon). In his role as tournament chairman for those events, Goldwater secured the venue – Phoenix Country Club – invited players and worked with tournament sponsor the 20/30 Club.

Under the shroud of war in Europe the Phoenix golf tournament was discontinued in 1936, 1937 and 1938.

The Thunderbirds History:

The Thunderbirds were formed in 1937 when the Phoenix Chamber of Commerce decided to expand its role as a convention and tourism bureau. They realized there was a need for a special committee to venture into new promotional fields and five young executives were selected to lead that committee. They were:

  • Whitey Chambers, Manager of a transfer and storage company
  • Milt Sanders, Public Relations Executive
  • Dick Heath, Sales Manager for a local radio station
  • Andy Tomlinson, Downtown Merchant
  • Ken Barton, Department Store Manager

After running the 1937 and 1938 Fiesta del Sol – a week long event modeled after the Jr. Chamber of Commerce Rodeo that also included bands and dancing – in late 1938 the Chamber suggested that the committee become an “Official” Special Events Committee and expand its membership. Each of the five original members then selected ten additional members to make up a committee of 55. They called themselves The Thunderbirds after the emblem of the Chamber of Commerce and adopted the uniform blue velvet tunics and silver concho belts and pendants reminiscent of the earlier Indian civilization of the area.

Bob Goldwater Continued:

Bob Goldwater on the early years:

“Those first few tournaments at the Phoenix Country Club were special. We had great players like Walter Hagen, Ralph Guldahl and Harry ‘Lighthorse’ Cooper who later handed the torch off to the likes of Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, ‘Lord’ Byron Nelson and Bobby Locke. They weren’t playing for much money in those days. Heck, a few years (1944 and ‘45) we gave out war bonds instead of cash. These guys played for the pure love of the sport.”

Bob Goldwater on Ben Hogan: 

“Ben was the best ball-striker I have ever seen. I can still see Ben walking up the 18th fairway in the final round of the 1949 Open, fairly confident he was on his way to another win. Jimmy Demaret made a few clutch shots down the stretch and then beat Hogan in a playoff.” (The next year, Hogan returned to Phoenix, but he was struggling.) “Ben was still suffering from the effects of his near-fatal car crash on his way home to Fort Worth from the Phoenix Open in 1949. He meant so much to the game of golf, especially to the Phoenix Open. The Thunderbirds renamed the 1950 Open after him and called it, ‘The Ben Hogan Open.’”

On Babe Zaharias’ appearance against the men in 1945:

“I played with her that year. She was great fun to play with and she hit the ball a mile. Babe was a great gal, very social. In those days, I had a house alongside Phoenix Country Club and I would throw a party for the players every year. Babe came that year and she had lots of fun. She liked to dance and was good at it, too.”

On his favorite wisecrack:

“I was playing in the pro-am in 1984 (at age 73) with Lee Trevino, Phil Harris, who was 80, and Karsten Solheim, who was also 73. Trevino turned to the crowd and said, ‘I’m playing with three guys who ought to have been dead 10 years ago.’”

On Arnold Palmer:

“One year (1961) Arnie narrowly missed a birdie putt to win on the 18th green, which meant an 18-hole playoff with Doug Sanders the next day. Arnie says ‘Dammit, I have to be in Oklahoma City tomorrow.’ I said, ‘Don’t worry about it, I’ll have you flown back.’ So he wins the playoff and I took him to the airport and there’s this little lady who used to teach flying out there--she used to fly my brother Barry around a lot. I don’t think she was 5’ 4’ 10”, maybe. Ruth Rineholt. Everybody knew her. She had to put pillows under her and pillows in back of her to fly. I introduced her to Arnie and a few other pros and said, ‘This is your pilot. She’s gonna take you back.’ Well, they looked at me and started laughing. I said, ‘I’m not kidding you.’ They got in, but they didnąt want to.”

On his brother Barry, the conservative political icon who won the 1934 pro-am:

“Barry had different ideas about golf. He never understood why you had to keep quiet when somebody else was shooting. He said they didn’t do it in any other game and damned if he was going to shut up just because somebody was shooting. So he lost interest in it.”

On Bing Crosby: 

“Bing made a hole-in-one out at Arizona Country Club at the ninth hole one year in the pro-am. But the better story is that he’s walking over to the 10th tee and there’s a big rip in his pants. Some big guy comes up and takes his pin on his badge and pins his pants together.”

On Lawson Little, runner-up in the 1951 event:

“I once said to Lawson, ‘How do you play match play so well?’ He said, ‘You’ve got to concentrate. Don’t let anything bug you. When you hit your drive and you’re walking to your next shot, don’t think of anything but your next shot. If anybody comes up to you, brush ‘em off. Make yourself unpopular.’ I said ‘Well, you were a great success at that.’ He was just brusque as hell. Lawson Little made Ben Hogan look like a chatterbox.”

On Byron Nelson: 

“In 1939, he’d had a good round on Friday (68) and then Saturday he shoots two 65s and everybody was talking about it. Someone said the afternoon round had to be a lot tougher for Byron because he was playing out of his morning divots. We used to kid him, when he’d hit his second shot at the pin, he’d have to sway back and forth because the ball kept getting in the way of the pin. I was playing a practice round with him in Phoenix and we got to the 16th hole and I said ‘Byron, you have not missed a fairway.’ And he looked at me like I was an idiot and said ‘I won’t miss a fairway all week.’”

On why the Open is so popular:

“The Thunderbirds and the (PGA TOUR) players who live here have always been close friends, and that goes way back. I think that’s the reason that we’ve always been able to attract such quality fields for Phoenix. The pros always have a good time and they’re always taken care of. Over time, that’s produced strong relationships between The Thunderbirds and the players based on trust and loyalty, and those are two (attributes) that are really hard to beat.”  

Rob Myers

FBR Open Media Relations Director

Vice President -- Communication Links

Office - 480-348-7540

Cell - 602-317-6131

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