Does the WM Phoenix Open Have a Diversity Problem?

We have a pretty good feel for our readership, and we know that for a good segment of our readers, mentions of the word “diversity” will be seen with skepticism and outright eye-rolling at worst. And while in its excesses it has certainly earned that skepticism. There are times that it is seen as the goal instead of more pertinent objectives, times that it is weaponized inappropriately. But many times, a homogenous group makes decisions with significant blind spots, and more diverse leadership would have anticipated those problems in advance.

That said, a recent article brings up a strong potential case study in where a lack of diversity can hurt an event: the lack of diversity in leadership of the Thunderbirds, the group that puts on the WM Phoenix Open. To this day, the Thunderbirds have never had a single female member, and even amongst the men, only two are black and two have Latino surnames.

Granted, for a sport that leans heavily white and male, it shouldn’t be a surprise that that demographic is heavily represented in a group such as the Thunderbirds, especially when the clubby, insular world of big business and wealth is included. It is a fundraising apparatus, after all. And the 21st century attempts to force-integrate certain institutions such as male-only or female-only colleges have often been more politically-motivated than out of necessity.

That said, golf is a sport that is played heavily by men and women alike; after all, the LPGA exists and thrives. And while we don’t have exact demographics, anyone who has been to the Phoenix Open knows that there are many, many women in attendance. So to not have any women in the event’s leadership at all, at an initial glance, seems foolhardy and backwards.

While Latino voices are very heavily underrepresented in the Thunderbirds leadership, at least there are ostensibly some voices that hopefully would speak up if something was wildly out of touch with their sensibilities. Same with black voices in leadership, although their number at least approaches the percentage of the overall population in Arizona. But to not have any women in a group that clearly caters to a significant female viewership seems like a massive oversight.

After all, women have experienced concerns and dangers that would have raised caution flags before the events of this past Open. Most have had to deal with some degree of danger related to groups of men that drank too much, of a pack mentality that seems to have overcome this year’s Open in the face of too much imbibing. What can feel like a “crazy day with the boys” for men can often feel like something very different for women: a serious cause for concern and feeling unsafe.

Women in leadership could very likely have seen the warning signs ahead of time and given notice as well as useful tips to avoid a negative outcome. It’s hard not to see how an “old boys club” mentality may have led to overlooking significant shortcomings whose fixing would have led to a better event for all. This is a flaw that the Thunderbirds should fix before planning begins in earnest for the next event.