Surround sound on the course
It looks like some surreal, skinny, double-A baseball stadium. It sounds like a cross between a bloated block party and, well, college football. It feels like nowhere else on Earth because you’re inside a stadium that’s inside a golf course, for Bobby Jones’ sake.
It’s the famously untamed No. 16 at TPC Scottsdale, and as it begins a new phase as completely enclosed by stands for this FBR Open -- general admission seats have filled its last cavity in “center field” -- think of it as some grand, quirky experiment.
Part bullring and part petri dish, it’s a single-hole answer to those who wonder why golfers and tennis players get to compete in enforced quiet while some 18-year-old college freshman has to attempt free throws in organized harassment.
It’s not as harsh as trying to make foul shots at Duke, but stray shots on the 162-yard par-three meet with once-unthinkable booing that can chase the golfer through the miniature desert toward the green.
“Well, it is a stadium,” said Colombian Camilo Villegas, ranked No. 10 in the world.
“This is as close as we get to being at Staples Center or inside a football dome,” said Anthony Kim, ranked No. 9.
“It’s football,” said former Arizona State student Pat Perez, who rose from No. 90 to No. 59 last Sunday by winning the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic.
Perez thinks its image as “the loudest hole in golf” creates a top-this mentality that makes people “do more every year to make it as loud and obnoxious as possible.”
Kim thinks it’s fabulous and true to his personality, once urged the crowd to continue booing him because he found it “hilarious.”
Villegas said, “There’s only one place on Earth, one hole on Earth like that. The fans are crazy. I know there’s a lot of alcohol being served there. . . . “
Paint Mr. Villegas as observant, for somehow the FBR has hit upon a human revelation:
People like parties.
From the genteel Bob Hope tournament that jettisoned comedian-host George Lopez, the PGA Tour moves to a gate with a sign just inside: DRINKING? GET BANDED HERE.
That’s where they check ID, just a stroll from a few party spots and from No. 16, where in the corporate stands between buffets and opposite the “rare Tennessee whiskey” area, you might find Dianna Smith, holder of a crucial, crucial post.
She’s a bartender; she uses the week’s earnings to market her real-estate agency; and she’s also a former eight-handicap golfer who thinks playing in the No. 16 tumult can edify golfers: “To get their emotions under control. . . . It toughens ‘em up, in my opinion.”
After all, they materialize through a little tunnel under the stands into a setting where just to tend bar, Smith had to attend a “liquor course” lending clues on knowing when to apply the cutoff to the inebriated. It’s a setting where Wes Bolyard, who manages probably the world’s largest collection of one-hole volunteers, pulls out a roster that requires six sheets to list 166 names.
Bolyard, author of a magazine article headlined “The Coolest Hole In Golf” -- guess which -- rises at 4:30 a.m. this week. His charges notify Scottsdale police officers plus a hired security company when somebody gets unruly or smokes a cigar in the roofed area.
He and Phil Calihan, a life member of the Thunderbirds organization that manages the tournament, can recall the 1990s and the nondescript days of No. 16. It had maybe a sprinkling of concessions. It evolved steadily into Rio de Janeiro.
“For the traditionalists, I’m sure there’s some reluctance,” Calihan said, “but they ought to come over here,” as do so many that Phil Mickelson marveled at “four or five times as many people as we ever get in another PGA Tour event,” even as veterans noted slightly thinned recession-era crowds Wednesday.
In fact, the aura of No. 16 has congealed such that separate tournament days have separate identities. Jim Michaels can explain -- vividly -- seeing as how for 15 years he has coaxed clients who dislike golf into his construction company’s corporate box by explaining, “It’s not about golf.”
Thursdays, Michaels explains, build toward Friday. Fridays entail teeming throngs specializing in “silicon and high heels,” “a parade of models,” even as, “You wonder why somebody would walk from, say, Parking Lot 8 in spiked, high heels.” Saturdays boom with college students who line the left-side stands, read from golfer biographies, croon the college fight songs of golfers, roar for Arizona State’s Mickelson and boo when golfers won’t doff caps.
Sundays, especially with the Super Bowl, abate into “die-hard golf watchers.”
As he tells this cultural tale, and Rihanna’s “Disturbia” blares from a speaker smack amid the hole, a serene sport somehow has revisited an ancient, jarring era. As Bolyard puts it, “I look at it more as like a Roman Colosseum. The entrance. The gladiators.”
At TPC Scottsdale (Ariz.)
TV: Golf Channel: Today-Friday, 1-4:30 p.m.; Sat-Sun, 10-11:30 a.m.;
Ch. 2: Sat-Sun, noon-3 p.m.