The Waste Management Phoenix Open, WMPO, is an annual tournament held each February at the TPC Scottsdale Golf Course in Scottsdale, AZ. Known by golf fans as “The Greatest Show on Grass,” the rowdy, drunken atmosphere has made it one of the most popular events on the PGA Tour. This year, the tournament featured a record attendance, peaking at 216,818 fans on Saturday, Feb. 4th.
The main event at the WMPO is its infamous par-3 16th hole. The hole is completely surrounded by grandstands, creating a stadium with a capacity for 30,000 fans. Atypical of any other hole in golf, crowd noise is accepted and, at times, encouraged by the golfers. A good drive landing close to the pin is met with a roar of congratulatory cheers from the crowd. If a shot lands in a sand trap, in the rough, or almost anywhere outside of an approximate fifteen feet radius from the hole, a wave of heckling ensues.
This year, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to attend the WMPO, one of the most lively and interesting events in professional sports.
The day began Saturday morning at a local bar & restaurant in Tempe, AZ to catch a shuttle bus to the tournament in Scottsdale. A few friends and I showed up bright and early, and the venue was already mobbed and lively when we arrived before 10 AM. Drinks being poured in bulk, the music was blasting, and the crowd was filled with enthusiasm.
Most patrons were getting a very early start to a long day of partying on the links, while others appeared that they had not stopped partying from the night before. While waiting the bus to allow us to board, I overheard a girl a couple of people in front of us stating that she was already hammered drunk. In disbelief, I checked my watch to see the time: 9:56 am.
After a thirty-minute bus ride to Scottsdale, we were met with a sea of people on our way to the entrance of the golf course. The journey was reminiscent of the mass exodus from the tailgating lots around noon on a Bills game day. Both literally and metaphorically, there was a strong buzz amongst the crowd.
The street was mainly filled with a colorful variety of polo shirts, dresses, and hats. Other fans opted for costumes ranging from Big Bird to Rodney Dangerfield to a Unicorn. The day before, one exceptionally drunk fan decided to wear nothing at allat the 17th hole.
A vast majority of the crowd was young, 20-somethings with a cold drink in hand. Some were eager to see big time golfers like Rickie Fowler and Phil Mickelson, while others appeared to be eager to replace the drink they had just finished.
After passing through the gates, we made a direct path to the 16th Hole to see if we would be lucky enough to make it inside the stadium for the action. We quickly found the beginning of the general admission line and started to follow it around the outside of the stadium.
As we kept walking, our disappointment grew as we knew there was no chance we would make it into the stadium prior to the day ending. The line had nearly wrapped around the outside of the entire building. Although we were unable to directly visualize the main event, we were able to tour the rest of the beautiful course throughout the morning.
The course featured lush fairways and greens that were meticulously groomed and rich with color. Large bodies of water were included throughout the course to add both depth and complexity to the landscape. Natural desert components like dirt, stone, and cacti were also integrated to match the true landscape of the region.
In contrast to the tournaments raucous reputation, the atmosphere of the front 9 was in line with the noise level and etiquette of a typical PGA event, however, no matter how far away from the stadium, you could hear the roar from the 16th hole nearly anywhere on the course.
Golfers at the WMPO are historically interactive with the crowd, and this year was no different. While at the 17th hole, golfer Luke List nearly drove his tee shot into the grandstands where we were sitting. Fans swarmed around the ball to get a front-row seat to his follow-up chip shot and began to cheer him on as he approached the ball.
Just before lining up to hit his next shot, List stepped away from the ball to wave his hand in the air to pump-up the crowd. The crowd went wild and List ended up giving away one of his clubs to a lucky fan as a token of his appreciation.
As the afternoon wore on, the combination of 80 degree heat and alcohol was catching up with the fans, the rowdiness increasing amongst the crowds with more and more cheering, booing, and chirping. A look of regret was apparent on the faces of female fans wearing heeled shoes, individuals with bulky costumes, and those that tried to wait out the line into the 16th hole.
We departed late Saturday afternoon and fan favorite Rickie Fowler sat on top of the leaderboard. Despite a strong performance through most of the tournament, Fowler suffered on the back 9 in the final round, finishing tied for 11th overall.
While Fowler struggled, fellow Americans Chez Reavie and Gary Woodland finished the final round of the tournament tied for the lead. A sudden death playoff round was needed to determine the champ. Woodland edged out Reavie with a par on the playoff hole to finish at -18 taking home over $1M as a result.
The combination of the crowd, the scenery, and the atmosphere led to an amazing sporting experience unlike any other I have ever been a part of. Despite not being able to make it into the 16th, stadium hole, I was glad to enjoy the rest of the course and be part of a laid-back, fan-friendly golf event. I definitely plan on heading back to this event in the near future, and I would highly recommend making the trip to all casual golf fans and sports fans alike.