A view from the greenside bleachers on the 16th hole.
For the other 51 weeks of the year, the hole is a vanilla par three. It measures 162 yards from the black tees, 100 from the white.
Carrying over some waste area, avoiding a few bunkers short of the green, the ball finds itself on a fairly large putting surface.
But for one week out of the year, the 16th hole at the TPC of Scottsdale is a haven for lunatics and loudness. Corporate hospitality boxes and bleachers surround the tee and extend toward the green.
It's a normal day during the Waste Management Phoenix Open when 15,000 people jam into an area that resembles a minor league baseball park.
When you play the hole as just an ordinary citizen, like I did a couple years ago, it's really not something that takes your breath away. Without the arena-like structure, it's just a little par three in between the risk/reward par-five 15th and the drivable par-four 17th.
But during this week, the 16th becomes something else. It's rowdy, respectful and disrespectful, rehearsed and spontaneous, funny and boring.
And for many, many years of this event's existence, it was generally a fun place to spend a day watching a field packed with some of the game's great names play an entertaining golf course.
It had become such a success that other tournament sites tried to recreate the atmosphere in Scottsdale. At Warwick Hills Country Club in Grand Blanc, Mich., the site of the now-defunct Buick Open, the 17th hole had become the most popular spot during the tournament. There weren't hospitality suites or bleachers, but loud fans surrounded the tee and green.
At the 84 Lumber Classic about an hour south of Pittsburgh, bleachers were erected behind the 17th green on the Mystic Rock Course at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort. Fans were directed by tournament staff on how and when to make noise in an unsuccessful attempt to be like Scottsdale.
Having fun with friends, having a few libations, singing creative facts to golfers as they walk up onto the tee—that's all good.
But as the atmosphere in that "arena" has gotten more and more charged, things have become more and more edgy.
Take last year when, toward the end of a practice round, a marshal asked a fan to be quiet, to which the drunken man responded by knocking the marshal down with a punch to the face.
With an incident like that, a line has been crossed. Being wild and crazy, painting your face, chanting and cheering is all cool. Punching a marshal is not.
The PGA Tour announced that there would be an increased security presence at the Waste Management event, although it was noted by the tour that this was not a result of anything other than following security protocol after the Boston Marathon bombings last April.
While the 16th hole party was a great marketing tool for the tournament and became an instant draw for television, the possibility always existed that things could get out of hand. It's teetering on that now.
Do you like the arena setup of the 16th hole at the TPC Scottsdale?
I've never been a fan of these made-for-TV things and always quietly wondered how long this one would last before problems began to happen.
But guess what? Things aren't going to change a great deal. Want to know why?
According to an Associated Press story by John Nicholson, the 16th will create something in the neighborhood of $10 million in ticket revenue. The skyboxes now number 200 and sell for an average of $46,000. That's a whole lot of zeros, and you can bet it will take something really serious for those zeros to be messed with.
The bottom line is that with things like this, a point of diminishing returns is reached. The 16th hole has been a wonderful attraction, a wonderful focal point for the tournament.
But now a line has been crossed, and before the tournament that draws more fans than any other gets a black eye, it's time for some increased security to allow everyone to continue to have a good time.