Shane BarnhillSaturday,2 February 2013

The Snap:

The 16th hole at the Phoenix Open (or rather, the Waste Management Phoenix Open, as it’s known today) is notorious. My grandmother — the most diehard golf fan ever — refuses to even watch it on TV because of all the etiquette breaches by fans and players. And Tiger Woods — despite his thrilling hole in one on the 16th in 1997 — refuses to play at the tournament anymore, in part because of the out-of-control atmosphere at Phoenix, of which the 16th hole is emblematic.

But the “fun police” are moving in, albeit in a subtle way.

The Download:

Unlike most golf tournaments, where subdued crowds clap politely and cheer at appropriate times, the 16th hole at Phoenix features crowds that are more similar to the World Cup or college football. Fans chant. They boo players. Caddies race each other, sometimes doing head-first slides onto the green in order to win (see video below). In short, it’s a big party that just happens to feature some golf in the background, and opinions on the tournament — especially the 16th hole — are sharply divided. One side features uptight players like Tiger Woods and fans like my grandmother, who despise the hole and avoid the Phoenix Open because of it. The other side? Well, let’s just say they’re a lot more fun. This side includes players who egg on and interact with the crowd, for example.

Love it or hate it, the 16th hole has always been over-the-top rowdy. However, I have a sneaking suspicion that an insidious change is underway.

It all started a couple of years ago, with installation of stadium seating in place of the last open patch of grass around the 16th hole’s green (you can see the open area in this aerial view). Most fans love the stadium seating that runs from the tee box to the hole. After all, some of them are there from dusk until dawn and can use a good chair to sit in periodically. Furthermore, the stadium seats provide a great view of all the action.

But part of the 16th’s charm was the unpredictable section of grass that fans crowded into just for the chance to be close to the green. This area always attracted those spontaneous fans who wandered over to the 16th after several cold beverages, more so than the meticulous planners who rose at 4am in order to grab specific stadium seats. People were always jammed in shoulder-to-shoulder, much like the area in front of the stage at a rock concert.

This section wasn’t comfortable. It smelled of booze. The view of the entire hole was subpar. You felt like a sardine jammed into a can. And far too many bros were around to demand high fives for even the most inane of reasons (“He made the one-foot putt! Bro! High fives all around!”). And yes, I’ve witnessed my share of over-served lightweights who staggered and then tumbled down the hill leading up to the open grass.

Still, that little patch of grass represented something special. There were no rules, and no tournament workers around to tell fans when to stand, when to sit, and how to behave. And now it’s gone. In its place are more stadium seats, governed by tournament employees who require fans to wait in orderly lines for admittance, scold them for standing in aisles, and remind them that photos are not allowed.

I get that change is inevitable, and that many people (like those who want their Super Bowl parties focused on the actual game, and not the commercials) may view this as a positive development. But the increased restrictions on fans, in combination with the expanding array of vendors selling t-shirts, hats and other goods which tout the 16th hole’s uncontrollable party-like notoriety, risk turning golf’s most unique hole into a mere parody of itself.

The 16th hole at the Phoenix Open will always be a raucous, festive scene. But an “uncontrolled” one? Not anymore.


Hat Tips:

YouTube,, Matt Healey, Image Credit: Flickr

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