Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.
Several players were disturbed by over-served fans yelling during their back swing on the 16th hole at the Waste Management Open this past weekend. Has the frat party gotten out of hand and if so, what can be done about it?
Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): One of my sons has a friend who was at the 16th hole for a couple of days, and told him “you have no idea” what shenanigans go on there. Apparently the streaker was just a small part of the “program”. Yes, I think the party has probably gotten out of hand, but I’m not sure what the organizers can do about it… it’s their own damn fault for encouraging it in the first place. On the other hand, pro golfers are so pampered and whiny, part of me wants to tell them to just suck it up and play on. Just carry earplugs for the 16th hole.
Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): OK, so everyone knows (players and fans) what happens on that hole. So, players have two choices; skip the event or just stop crying about it, embrace it and expect it. If you expect it and engage with the fans, they’ll have little to no impact on your play of that one hole (look at Ryan Palmer, wrapping $10 bills around golf balls and handing them out on that hole). Or Rickie Fowler raising the roof and asking the fans to get loud during his swing/play. I think some players sometimes forget they are entertainers and that the fan base ultimately pays their salaries. Each stop has a different crowd; don’t expect this kind of fan base at Augusta. Could/should the organizers or Tour look into toning this down? They’ve spent over a decade building it up and giving this event its own flavour. I don’t think they’ll be in a hurry to make any substantial changes.
Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Life Member, PGA of Canada: You can’t have it both ways! On one hand we say how unique and refreshing it is to have the stadium, put it on your bucket list, it’s great in small doses. Then on the other, it disturbs the players, traditions are broken and enough is enough. It seems to me the players who embrace the antics by waving their arms to encourage the crowd, give out ‘goodies’ and generally enjoy the atmosphere aren’t in the ‘we’ve gone too far’ camp. USA brags about being the country of marketing genius! Suddenly, they have a ‘cash cow’ that attracts 5 times the number of spectators (not exactly patrons) of any other tournament and they want to curtail it. I think they should build stadiums around more holes but only at the Phoenix Open and maybe a train to eliminate the traffic and parking.
Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): The frat party has clearly gotten out of hand, as evidenced by the naked man who was running around the 17th hole for five full minutes on Wednesday afternoon. I understand that the intention behind the 16th hole, and the WM Open in general, was to create a circus-like atmosphere, but a line needs to be drawn when drunken fans are streaking and shouting during the players’ backswings. The tournament needs to cut back on how much liquor it is serving the crowd and security needs to tighten up at this event and start kicking out some of the more belligerent attendees. Several photos of passed-out patrons made the rounds this past week and those did not reflect well on the PGA Tour. I’ve got no qualms with fans drinking, or smoking a little whacko-tobacco, at any of these tournaments. But when it gets to a point where the atmosphere is so debauched that you legitimately cannot bring your family to the event, changes need to be made.
TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): This golf tournament/frat party/drunk fest has been good for the game, let’s face it. However, there needs to be a limit. You can’t argue when a tournament gets 750,000 fans over the week, that’s great exposure for the game, and the game does need to change a bit to entice the younger generation to join in, but it certainly gets a bit out of hand in Phoenix. I had friends lining up at 5:30 in the morning to get a chance to sprint to the 16th hole, when the first golfers don’t get there until 6 plus hours later! Something needs to be done to limit alcohol consumption, but that might be easier said than done!
Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: To heck with the wimps. They know what it’s going to be like. Coddled and over-protected at every freakin’ event their entire careers and they can’t handle this? It’s the best party in golf and if the wimps can’t handle it they should take the week off, shut their pie hole, and let the party roll.
Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): The streaker probably crossed the line but apart from a few drunks screaming during a player’s backswing, the 16th hole, in fact the entire tournament, is just a whole lotta fun. I’ve sat in the stands on the 16th and the normal noise level is loud. When a player does something special, the volume increases to jet engine loud. It’s a once a year thing and a huge success on so many levels. Players just need to embrace the noise. Perhaps a bit more security is warranted to deal with a few over-served patrons but otherwise I wouldn’t change a thing – except bring back the caddie races.
At the USGA Annual Meeting, Executive Director Mike Davis commented on the distance issue and stated that “increased distance is not good for the game.” However, there are other issues that the USGA could have commented on that need attention. What’s the number 1 problem facing golf right now?
Deeks: Declining participation is surely number one, and aside from using threats of jail time to FORCE people to play golf, I’m not sure what they can do that they aren’t doing already. Continuing to relax rules, and enforcing speedier play would help. And as for “increased distance is not good for the game”, I agree that that statement applies to professional golf. But if you try to dial back distance for the average player, I think that will have a further negative effect on public participation. (In other words, don’t you go dialin’ ME back, buddy!)
Loughry: Perceived image of the game. We’re still very much fighting the reputation of the game being a rich man’s sport. Couldn’t be further from the truth with over 80% of facilities being open to the public in North America, and you can find VERY reasonably priced equipment and green fees these days ($1 per hole for 18 holes at a good golf course). I know some answers are going to say TIME. That’s not our biggest issue; that’s hogwash; last I checked nobody forces you to play 4, 5, or 6 hours. You can stop when you want to, I do it all the time, and play 7, 9, 12 or 15 holes. I simply play as many as I can if I have another engagement to make.
Schurman: The number one problem facing golf right now is management companies that either own, lease or manage courses as a business. Admittedly, nobody is in business to lose money but there are many different ways to be profitable and creating revenue is one. Management companies tend to focus on reducing expenses as their primary ‘tool’. They have shown little interest in creating/growing the revenue. Once they enter into an operating agreement they immediately apply their standard operating procedures (one size fits all). They fire all the key staff replacing them with junior people working under district managers, bring all budget over-seeing into a head office, raise prices and eliminate all events that might appeal to the players because they cost money. The end result is the players only have loyalty to their small group of friends, no programs exist to encourage new players to take up the game and because prices are up and service is down, the players react by employing a ‘you take care of you and I’ll take care of me’ attitude or ‘it’s us against them’. The romance of the game is lost; replaced by dollar signs.
Kaplan: Slow play is unquestionably the biggest issue in golf right now. It’s a big problem on the PGA Tour and an even bigger issue in amateur golf. It’s gotten to the point where I cannot even play at my home course on the weekends because it moves like molasses out there. There are so many factors that cause it: overbooking, poor group spacing, dilly-dallying, searching for lost balls, gambling, playing from the wrong tee, cart-path only days, etc. The list just goes on. And it drives me nuts!
Rule: The number 1 problem is attracting the younger generation. Private clubs all over North America have the same challenge. How do we replace the older members who are leaving us in larger and larger numbers every year? Part of the problem in attracting younger golfers is the time it takes to play a round. Not everyone has the flexibility in their work and family schedule to escape for 6 hours! The distance problem is only an issue in the pro game. Let me hit the ball further, that’s fine, I can use all the help I can get!
Quinn: It’s time, and time is money. It takes a lot of money and time to get equipped and get good enough to enjoy the game. To get to that point, you have to be passionate about golf and that means starting young with the right guidance and that ain’t cheap. That circles back to the problem. Once you get good and love it, it takes more time and money for a membership or season’s worth of green fees. To that end, I’ve decided to win the lottery. Wish I’d thought of it sooner.
Mumford: You mean I have to pick just one? I think golf’s biggest problem is that the largest group of participants (old white guys) is getting even older and will soon start to play less. Golf courses, for the most part, have not done enough to attract other segments of the population with a differentiated product. They continue to push the same 18-hole format which is expensive and time consuming, when they could be offering 6 and 9 hole loops, short courses and family combinations that are easier on the pocketbook, take less time and eventually will get more people hooked on the game. Golf is hard and requires patience to learn. The one size fits all approach worked when demand was greater than supply but right now there are way too many underutilized facilities that could be marketed with a new approach to a new crowd. Heck, even as an OWG, I would happily play a short course or 6 hole loop occasionally.
The PGA Tour moves to Pebble Beach this week, another spectacular golf course with green fees to match. At $600 plus caddie and tip, it’s priced out of the reach of most golfers. Is there a public golf course anywhere in the world that you’d be willing to break the bank to play?
Deeks: I’d pay $600 to play Don Valley. But I’d have to be extremely intoxicated on many substances. Seriously, I can’t think of a public course I’d pay that much to play, including Pebble Beach. I WOULD pay $600 to play Augusta, Pine Valley, or Royal Melbourne, but they’d have to throw in free tees.
Loughry: Well, Pebble is the one for me to break the bank on. In the neighborhood would be several courses at Bandon Dunes, both at Cabot Links and TPC Sawgrass (although a few of these are “reasonably“ priced when compared to Pebble). My list excludes elites I’ve played: Pinehurst #2, Ocean Course at Kiawah Island and Pasatiempo (all fantastic by the way).
Schurman: I’m probably not the right person to ask. As a Golf Professional I have taken full advantage of a common practice knowing within the industry as a “Professional Courtesy” or complimentary rounds. It isn’t something that is a ‘right’ or something earned, it’s a ‘privilege’ that is given: it is asking the Host Golf Professional to ‘extend you an invitation to play’. Foremost, the benefiting invitee must remember, you are a personal guest of the Host Professional. Having said that, Pebble Beach is the only course I have ever paid a green fee to play. I called asking to be extended an invitation and was given a starting time at 2:00 PM. The Assistant Professional asked me if I had been to Monterey before. I said “No”. He told me that in August (when we were playing) fog came in at 4:00 and we would never finish the round. If we paid a $100.00 green fee we could play at 10:00. We did and as we were enjoying lunch after the round, the fog came in at exactly 4:00; you couldn’t see across the patio. Now back to the question: I think my wife would endorse the expense for me to play Augusta National if she could walk along.
Kaplan: Not at that price. For that type of money, I’ll take a pass on the green fee and buy a Great Big Bertha Epic Subzero or a Ping G400 LST driver instead. You can get thousands of uses out of either of those beauties. A green fee only lasts a morning or an afternoon. And every time that I splurge on one, I always feel like an idiot afterwards.
Rule: Pebble is certainly one of the priciest green fees in the world of golf, but they still attract play, so you can’t blame them for charging what they do! There are a few courses on my bucket list that I would break the bank to play, starting with two courses in New Zealand, Cape Kidnappers and Kauri Cliffs. Both are spectacular properties and relatively pricey, especially if you stay on property, and also given the time and cost it takes to get to the other side of the world! And while I’m there, I’ll be hoping to sneak out to Tara Iti, which technically isn’t public, but is accessible and is also not the cheapest round of golf you’ll find!
Quinn: I’d definitely slide down the coast — one of the great scenic drives from Vancouver to Oregon — and settle into Mike Keiser’s Bandon Dunes. I interviewed Keiser overlooking the original course when there was just that one classic. Now there are five, so a couple of rounds on each would be about right. Two weeks at the resort — averaging (all figures in US dollars) $295 a night for the room, $280 for golf, $100 for the caddy, at least $200 a day for food and refreshments. What’s that ballpark — eight and a half Gs before taxes and spillage? Peanuts. The bank can handle that.
Mumford: Pebble Beach would top my list of public courses where I would pay whatever they wanted. The problem is that when I’m at a really good golf course, I like to play it at least twice, once to familiarize myself with some of its subtleties and then a second time to bring it to its knees. Do you think Pebble has a free same day replay?