Controlled chaos: Boundaries bend but don't break at No. 16 at TPC Scottsdale

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Controlled chaos: Boundaries bend but don't break at No. 16 at TPC Scottsdale

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Controlled chaos: Boundaries bend but don't break at No. 16 at TPC Scottsdale

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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – It is only 16 steps from the first row of the south-side bleachers to the exit ramp, but try telling that to someone who’s been drinking all day without stretching their legs.

Once the final group has come through the 16thhole Saturday at TPC Scottsdale, the fans begin to file out and maneuver those 16 steps with varying degrees of success.

Waste Management Phoenix Open leader Rickie Fowler still has two more holes to play, but there’s a sense of finality once the action ceases at the wildest hole on the wildest day of the wildest tournament in golf.

Fans line up at the entrance hours before the gates open at 7 a.m. local time. At around 2 p.m. a young man is pleased to report he took his first shot of the day at 4 a.m.

“I’m not mad about it,” he says.

Arrive to the course any time after the gates have opened and you’re in for a long wait. One group of party-goers wearing matching button-up tropical-patterned shirts has been in line to get into the 16thbleachers for 3.5 hours by the time they’re finally allowed to enter at 1:45 p.m.

Waiting in line for that long means the Porta Pottys are a popular first stop. Roughly 40 toilets are lined underneath a wooden overhang off the main south entrance. They’re protected from the sun, which is good, but it also means spectators are submerged in darkness and disoriented as soon as the door closes behind them. This, of course, probably beats the alternative of sight given the circumstances.

Fans pose for a photo at the infamous par-3, 16th hole during 2019 Waste Management Phoenix Open at the TPC Scottsdale. Photo: USA TODAY Network

In the bleacher seats there’s a constant clattering as fans move in and out of the rows, kicking up piles of Miller Lite and Coors Lite cans that retail for $9 when full. More daring attendees sneak in entire bags of red wine or bottles of Jose Cuervo, taking long pulls with little discretion.

Players are booed when they miss the green but also increasingly jeered for shots that aren’t all over the flagstick. Russell Knox is booed heavily when he hits a safe but respectable shot to the center of the green, 32 feet from the cup.

Four groups later, Andrew Landry misses the green entirely and is hounded mercilessly when his chip stops well short of the flag. The chanting begins when he starts lining up his 11-foot par putt.

“BO-GEY! BO-GEY! BO-GEY! BO-GEY”

Landry misses, ends up with a bogey and hustles off the green, out of the arena.

Bubba Watson plays it cooler when his 5-foot par putt slides past the hole, cupping his ear with his hand ala Patrick Reed at the Ryder Cup in a move that earns the respect of most hecklers.

Volunteers and members of the Thunderbirds, an invite-only special-events committee that organizes the tournament each year, walk to the putting surface every so often to retrieve rolls of toilet paper that come flying out of the bleachers. Someone chucked a full beer toward the green after Fowler missed a birdie putt in the last group of the day.

If it all sounds like a lot of excessive debauchery, it is.

That’s the whole point, and it’s why people are willing to wait in line for hours when they could walk right up to any of the remaining 17 holes with no problem.

It’s also worth noting that despite the 16thhole’s hard-earned reputation, it’s not out of control. At no point does the atmosphere seem any more chaotic than your average NFL stadium on gameday.

Kevin Streelman throws swag to fans at the 16th hole during the third round of the Waste Management Phoenix Open. (Tracy Wilcox/PGA Tour)

One could pick and choose a few idiots from the crowd as arguments this tournament crosses the line, but to a sober observer the reality is that problems aren’t as frequent as one might expect given the sheer volume of people and alcohol in tight quarters. The environment is downright tame in the bleachers closest the tee box and grows in intensity the farther you venture toward the green.

The same could be said for this entire tournament. If you’re looking for trouble when you get here, you’ll find it in a hurry. But it’s just as easy to keep one’s nose clean, wander off to less-populated areas and watch in a relatively normal golf environment.

The 16thhole is not a normal golf environment. But it’s not so far gone that the Tour or organizers need to take serious action to rein things in.

It is what it is – a place to be seen, a bucket list item and a gathering spot for the most enthusiastic partiers on property.

The end result is an atmosphere that’s not for everyone and resembles a NASCAR race infused with a host of Instagram influencers, puffing Juuls and slamming drinks and watching a few golf shots. Nothing more, nothing less.

Take it or leave it. Gwk

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