Sound on: The party has returned to the Phoenix Open



Fans circle the ninth hole as groups walk up the fairway during the Phoenix Open golf tournament on Thursday, February 10, 2022 in Scottsdale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Darryl Webb).


The hum echoes five, six fairways away, the hive of activity beckoning everyone to join the three-story party on the grass. It’s a constant cacophony, punctuated by boos that soar into the desert air, roars that roll like shock waves to the outer reaches of the course.

Inside, the boozy, boisterous crush emits an unrelenting hum, a backing for the shouts, whistles and chants that echo off the walls.

Normally disturbed by the slightest shadow or silence breaking, the golfers embrace the chaos, put their hands to their ears to hear more roar and shrug at the slightest misjudgment.

After a year-long pandemic hiatus, the curtain has fallen on The Greatest Show on Grass. The makeshift stadium surrounding the par 3 16th hole of the TPC Scottsdale takes center stage again.

“It’s quite a show here, quite a party and quite an atmosphere,” said Graeme McDowell before missing the cut at the Phoenix Open at 68-74.

Once just another stop on the PGA Tour’s West Coast Swing, the Phoenix Open has grown into one of golf’s greatest spectacles.

Hundreds of thousands of golf fans flock to the desert course daily during the tournament — a PGA Tour record 216,000 in 2018 — generating decibel levels more appropriate for a football game.

The 16th hole is the rowdy epicenter. A nondescript par 3 the rest of the year, it transforms into a three-layer cake of pandemonium during the tournament, more than 20,000 often drunk fans creating golf’s version of a party cruise.

The coronavirus pandemic has muted the celebrations, like a bar turning lights on and off for the last call.

The 2020 tournament went smoothly as Webb Simpson defeated Tony Finau in a playoff about a month before the end of the world.

The 2021 tournament felt like a post-apocalyptic version of the Phoenix Open. The tournament, held while the pandemic was still raging, was capped at 5,000 fans a day. Stadium No. 16, still almost its usual size, looked almost deserted with a capacity of 2,000.

This year the gates were wide open and the fans couldn’t wait to storm through.

Well over 100,000 spread across TPC Scottsdale in each of the first two rounds, the largest contingents congregating in and around the massive bleachers that lined the holes closest to the clubhouse.

Many move in packs: Bros in matching outfits or brightly colored, short-legged rompers, women who in their tight dresses and high heels seem more prepared for a night out than for a golf tournament. There was even a crew of beardless Santas on Friday.

And they certainly brought their outside voices, roaring approval for good takes, booing bad ones and occasionally shouting inappropriate comments.

“I love it when people get rowdy,” said Brooks Koepka, who went into Saturday’s third round two strokes behind leader Sahith Theegala, who had 10 strokes. “They cheer you when you hit hard and boo you when you hit badly. It almost feels like a real sport, like football, basketball, stuff like that, football.”

The 16th hole is once again the screaming heart of the party.

The debauchery begins at dawn when fans, many of whom are continuing last night’s party, line up at the gates and sprint to the stadium hole for the best seats.

Once inside, they create a coliseum of chaos, a constant roar pouring down from people pressed against railings, squeezed into seats, lined up at drink stands and port-a-potties.

Golf seems to be next to the good times. The PGA Tour threw a spotlight on caddy racing a few years ago, but fans have found other ways to create entertainment, shouting at the scoreboard bearers to spin their boards – most of them do – or people through to bring the stadium to recognize them.

On Friday, fans in the South Stand picked an unbuttoned shirt guy on the north side and began a “hairy chest!” chant. The man removed his shirt, rubbed his hairy chest, and poured a beer over his head, prompting a cheer to rival any golf swing that day.

On the 16th there was even a marriage proposal. She agreed.

“The fans here are amazing,” said Justin Thomas. “There is no comparable tournament, there doesn’t have to be a second tournament like this. This place stands on its own for a reason and I know I enjoy it.”

Party on again.


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