Ask anybody at the PGA Tour or the USGA what they think the top priority is for the sport of golf, and the answer will always be the same.
“We need to grow the game.”
That refrain, to grow the game, has been repeated so often that it’s almost like a broken record. This week, though, we’re going to see one of the best ways to accomplish that goal in action.
The Waste Management Phoenix Open begins on Thursday, and one of the highlight attractions at the TPC Scottsdale Stadium Course is the famous par-3 16th. With the massive amphitheatre-style bleachers surrounding the hole, fans turn this hole into a huge party every year, cheering good shots, and to be fair, booing the poor ones. In fact, this tournament is the single most well-attended event of the entire Tour schedule.
Golf “traditionalists” will argue that this type of atmosphere is bad for the game, but it’s actually just the opposite. Sure, there are some fans who take it too far after a few too many adult beverages, but just watch the players as they walk up to the green after their tee shots. They love it, and it gives everybody a chance to let their hair down a bit.
Padraig Harrington has been known to kick footballs into the stands in the past. Rickie Fowler had his sponsor, Puma, send dozens of extra hats that he could throw to fans. In 2012, Bubba Watson and Ben Crane broke out their “Golf Boys” song, complete with Crane’s helmet. It gets a little silly, for sure, but how can this not be a good thing? Bring more people to the golf course, and you’re bound to get people to pick up the game and pass it on to the next generation.
I’m not saying that every tournament should have these kind of antics; this type of atmosphere couldn’t be replicated anywhere else. That said, giving the players and fans a bit more of an outlet to show that it isn’t just a stodgy old man’s game can only help bring more people into the sport.