By Suzanne Sparrow Watson
Last week we hosted over 700,000 people in our neighborhood at the “Greatest Show on Grass”, otherwise known as the Phoenix Open. Sure, The Waste Management Company is the named sponsor, but even though they’ve paid a lot of money and the tournament moved to Scottsdale 36 years ago, it’s still known to locals as the Phoenix Open. For a long time it was officially the FBR Open but that didn’t stick either. I think Waste Management overlooked the opportunity to call it the “Wasted Open”, which is more reflective of the actual event. The Phoenix Open is unique on the PGA tour because it is one quarter golf and three quarters party. Many pro players have refused to play here due to the heckling and the general circus-like atmosphere, but more and more of the younger players revel in the alcoholic ambience. All I know is every year we rely on the advice we got almost 20 years ago when we moved here: the week of the Open just hunker down and watch it on TV. The traffic is horrendous and the restaurants are jammed. That said, the Phoenix Open draws some of the largest crowds of the PGA season. Here’s just a few reasons why:
The average attendee knows little about golf
We actually did attend the event a few times and half the fun is observing the crowd. Normally golf galleries are filled with people wearing golf attire and sensible shoes. These are people who know the game and know what it’s like to walk around a golf course. At the Phoenix Open the crowd is filled with people either dressed in costume (Big Bird was popular this year) or barely dressed at all. There is fun to be had watching the young women who come expecting to prance around in their Louboutin heels but quickly discover that they are wearing the wrong kind of spikes. We’ve seen more than one novice ruin a $500 pair of shoes when she goes “heels down” in a combination of soft grass and spilled beer.
Even the pro-am is entertaining
Usually the pro-am of any golf tournament is just a way for local dignitaries to bring in high flying, no-name customers for a chance to play with a pro. The Phoenix Open, however, attracts top sports stars, business CEO’s and entertainment celebrities. We could tell when the week of The Open is occurring even if we didn’t have a calendar – an average of 75 private jets fly over our house into Scottsdale airport every day of the Open. There are so many planes at the airport that they have to double-park them. This year the pro-am was spiced up by the addition of a streaker! Yep – a 24 year-old man was breakdancing, practicing his golf swing and throwing sand up in the air while au naturel. Apparently he also fell down a lot and, not surprisingly, was eventually charged with disorderly conduct. What makes the story more amusing is that his antics went on for five minutes before anyone came out to stop him and at the end of his “performance” the crowd gave him a standing ovation. Again, not your usual stodgy golf patronage.
The 16th Hole
Of course, what defines the Phoenix Open is the 16th Hole – the biggest outdoor bar in the world. Over the years it has gone from having a few corporate tents around the tee box to its current three-story stadium surrounding the entire hole. It is now literally like entering the lion’s den. The 16th hole is famous for caddy-races (now banned after one too many accidents), pros throwing items into the stands (also now banned) and for the rowdiness of the spectators. What other golf tournament sells tee shirts that says “Bring the Noise”? There are students from ASU that strive to get the front row seats on Saturday each year and from that vantage point, sing or shout a personalized message to each golfer. A few years ago the TV golf announcers were marveling at the amount of research this group does, digging up fight songs from obscure alma maters to knowing the name of the pro’s first wife. I suppose the students’ parents might be wishing that amount of analyzing was spent on studying microbiology or something but for the rest of us it’s pretty entertaining to hear their songs and heckles – as long as it’s not mid-swing.
The upside of putting up with traffic and yahoos who yell “You Da Man!” is that the local charities benefit greatly from the tournament proceeds. In fact, that’s one of the best aspects of the tournament. As my neighbor observed, it’s also good that we can watch it on TV and miss the drunks vomiting into the trash cans. Starting today we can relax until Spring Training starts when, once again, our roads are clogged and restaurants are filled to capacity. Thankfully, baseball fans seem to be much more sedate than the Phoenix Open attendees. Hopefully no one comes up with the bright idea to build a bar on third base.