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The Waste Management Phoenix Open: A Clinic In The Fan Experience

Allan Henry-USA TODAY Sports

With a venue like the 16th hole, it’s no wonder that TPC Scottsdale packed a record 204,000 fans onto the course in one day.

A beloved movie and cult-classic, Happy Gilmore has its share of iconic scenes. Who can forget Happy’s carnivalesque putt to win the Tour Championship or even Chubbs’ tragic reaction to seeing his reptilian foe? But if there is one scene in Happy Gilmore which perfectly captures the sometimes stuffy nature of the game it’s this:


No, I’m not advocating that we throw beach balls onto the putting green, but the golf fan experience often feels detached from the pros. Fans are chided by caddies to put their phones away or ordered to cease all movement before each shot. It is refreshing when fans are invited to cheer at whim without the fear of being shamed by an entire crowd. In a sport that sometimes emits the same pizzazz of a Cleveland Browns home game, a little crowd involvement can turn an otherwise routine regular season stop into a must-play event for the pros.

Billed as “The Greatest Show on Grass,” the Waste Management Open has never lacked for attendance. At last year’s tournament, 201,000 spectators flooded TPC Phoenix… on Saturday. This year’s Saturday drew an even larger crowd, with 204,000 attending. To put these mammoth numbers into perspective, Baltusrol Golf Club estimated that 80,000 people were in attendance for the final two rounds of the PGA Championship. In June, the R&A estimated attendance for the British Open at 173,000 over four rounds, while Oakmont became the first US Open venue not to sell out all four rounds. 

Augusta National does not estimate attendance.

So how does an early season tournament continue to attract more people in one day than most major tournaments do in four days? 

The Venue

For one week a year, Phoenix truly becomes a golf town. Overseeing the tournament is the Thunderbirds, a civic group within Phoenix that aims to better the community. However, this charitable organization knows how to throw a party. Within a 48,000-sq. ft tent known as the Bird’s Nest, alcohol flows to the sound of live music. 

@official_flo just hit the stage at @birdsnestphx #GetLow pic.twitter.com/qNd7n9AaER

— Live 1015 (@live1015phoenix) February 4, 2017

If there is one hole that sums up the free-spirited nature of the tournament the most, it is the 16th hole. Imagine packing all 20,000 fans from game seven of last year’s NBA Finals onto one hole and into stands that practically suffocate the green and fairway. Now fill it with some of the oddest characters you’ve ever seen.

Jamaica we have a bobsled team…at the @WMPhoenixOpen. They do it for charity! #GreenOut #greenestshow pic.twitter.com/pm9kqbPIvL

— Waste Management (@WasteManagement) February 4, 2017

This is what the Phoenix Open is all about. And it makes for even greater TV when the golfers get into it.

Wearing a jersey.
Pumping up the crowd.

Golf’s a little different at this hole. pic.twitter.com/0pstqdsNXn

PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) February 2, 2017

No Tiger, No Problem

Tiger Woods’ reign over the game of golf ended what seems like decades ago at this point. But the “Tiger Effect” is still a real and palpable reality for the PGA Tour. When Woods committed to his first event of the 2015 season, the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro North Carolina, organizers printed an additional 49,000 tickets and attendance records were set every day of the tournament. TV ratings soared 200% from one year before.

PGA Tour Deputy Commissioner Jay Monahan had these words on the tournament’s massive popularity post-Woods:

“I think the connection this event has with the region and the community is as special as any event not just on the PGA Tour but in sports… you look at the crowds and the social currency that this tournament generates, it’s something every event in sports and entertainment seeks. They have it and have it in spades” (www.azcentral.com).

Woods has not played in the Phoenix Open since 2014 and yet by all inclinations, the tournament has done just fine without him.

Image title

Allan Henry USA Today-Sports       

The Course

When Tom Weiskopf was hired to redesign the course in 2014, his objective was to make TPC Scottsdale more challenging. Seven months and $12M later, Weiskopf completely revamped the course’s bunkers and most of its greens. Last year’s event was the first since 2005 to have a scoring average over par. Additionally, the 2016 field averaged 41.5 ft. on approach, the second furthest distance on tour in 2016.

As a result, the golf has been highly competitive throughout all four rounds. Hideki Matsuyama needed to win in sudden-death playoff fashion to put away Rickie Fowler. This year’s Phoenix Open seems to be going following the same trend.

The Waste Management Phoenix Open is without a doubt the most exhilarating fan experience on tour with the outright coolest hole in the game. At a venue that rivals the Indy 500, one wonders whether the fans of the “Greatest Show on Grass” aren’t the real winners this weekend.

Edited by Jazmyn Brown, Bobby Murray.

SQuiz
Who won the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open?
Created 2/5/17
  1. Hunter Mahan
  2. Brooks Koepka
  3. Bubba Watson
  4. Jason Day

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