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Phoenix Country Club recalls a different city at a different time

Matt Zemek

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Aaron Doster - USA TODAY Sports

The Phoenix Country Club is the site of the brand-new ATP Challenger Tour event, the Arizona Tennis Classic, running March 11-17 in the Valley of the Sun. Challenger events aren’t star-studded affairs, but this tournament will offer a field worthy of an ATP 250.

The Phoenix Country Club will get to host a professional sporting event again.

It is cause for nostalgia among older Phoenix residents.

The Phoenix Open golf tournament is wildly popular at its current home in Scottsdale. Residents of the greater Phoenix metropolitan area are all too aware that Scotttsdale is where the ritzy, posh, modernized resorts — in a city highly dependent on outside tourism for economic firepower — currently exist. Scottsdale is trendy and upscale. Phoenix is trying to catch up.

The Phoenix Country Club belongs to an older version of Phoenix, a city whose downtown was sleepy and relatively underdeveloped through the early 1980s, until Terry Goddard became mayor in 1984 and ushered in a new era of downtown modernization.

That era of Goddard’s arrival and transformation marked the end of the Phoenix Country Club’s 54-year run as the primary host of the Phoenix Open. The golf course hosted the first Phoenix Open in 1932 but met the end of the line in 1986. The tournament moved to Scottsdale in 1987 and has remained there since. That move from the inner city to the suburbs paralleled the rapid expansion of Phoenix on its outer perimeter. Massive growth in luxury housing and high-end condominiums on a sprawling desert expanse is how Phoenix has become one of the larger metro areas in the United States… and a place where water scarcity is an urgently (scarily) important issue in the 21st century.

Phoenix’s growth in the inner city was certainly needed for economic reasons, but the growth has not been managed well. A commitment to green spaces and planting trees has been lacking. As a result, Downtown Phoenix and surrounding areas have become steel-and-glass hell-traps which cause heat indexes to soar during the city’s infamously hot summers.

The Phoenix Country Club was part of a less-developed City of Phoenix, yes… but it was also part of a more ecologically friendly Phoenix.

These next two shots are screengrabs from CBS television’s broadcast of the 1978 Phoenix Open, before the city grew into the massive metropolis it is today:

The loss of the Phoenix Open after 1986 deprived the Phoenix Country Club of an annual weekend on national television. The new Arizona Tennis Classic (tickets can be found here) won’t be a national-TV event, but it will provide a field good enough to merit attention from Phoenix tennis fans.

One wonders how long this new chapter in the Phoenix Country Club’s relationship with professional sports will unfold…

Matt Zemek is the co-editor of Tennis With An Accent with Saqib Ali. Matt is the lead writer for the site and helps Saqib with the TWAA podcast, produced by Radio Influence at radioinfluence.com. Matt has written professionally about men's and women's tennis since 2014 for multiple outlets: Comeback Media, FanRagSports, and independently at Patreon, where he maintains a tennis site. You can reach Matt by e-mail: mzemek@hotmail.com. You can find him on Twitter at @mzemek.

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