What a Waste (Management)

Across the globe, a lot has been written and said about the PGA Tour’s Waste Management Phoenix Open. Most notably, the discussion has centred around the topic of the Stadium Hole, which is a grandstand/corporate box that surrounds the par-3 16th hole of TPC Scottsdale, and is purpose-built to house and entertain tens of thousands of rowdy, noisy, alcohol-fuelled attendees while a golf event takes place.

Proponents of the “Party hole” argue that this represents the future of golf events; creating a music-filled, nightclub-like environment which is attractive to a younger legion of fans. Critics, however, counter that golf shouldn’t pander to this demographic, and that it detracts from the golf event itself.

A variety of global tournaments (including a few here in Australia) have tried to adopt similar “Party Hole” setups, with limited success (or abject failure).

As a previous fence-sitter on this topic, I decided to travel to Phoenix this year to witness, firsthand, this unique and high-energy tournament.

First up, some numbers. The WM Phoenix Open has the highest attendance on the PGA Tour, by a large margin. Throughout the week, over 700,000 fans walk through the turnstiles, with the Saturday session alone usually seeing over 200,000 fans in attendance.

Many of those fans queue up at 3am to ensure that, when the gates open at 7am, they can make a bee-line to the 16th hole to grab their spot among 20,000 others and settle in for the day (If you haven’t seen the crazy video of this madness, check it out here: www.facebook.com/PGATour/videos/2244629649173531/)

For those who miss out on the Stadium Hole, there is a smaller (yet equally rowdy) grandstand/pub called “The Ridge” which borders the 12th hole, as well as a “Craft Beer Desert Oasis” nestled near the 5th. There is also a huge row of hospitality centres lining the 18th hole. These are all, essentially, warm-up facilities for the “main event” of the night, The Bird’s Nest, a purpose-built nightclub and live music venue with big-name acts taking centre stage, with Arizona locals dressed to the nines, looking to paint the town red.

Essentially, the entire event is a massive party with golf as a side act. Think of it as a combination of schoolies week and the Melbourne Cup.

For true golf fans (i.e. those who want to walk the course and watch some actual golf), this event is a winner; as most of the attendees are locked away in the hospitality areas, the majority of the course itself is quite sparsely populated, so you can actually get right up to the ropes and see your favourite players.

I’ll admit that I had an absolute ball at this event. It is definitely a bucket-list item that any serious golfer should try and “tick” at least once.

But does this help grow the game? Is it worth trying to replicate at other events around the world?

I spoke with many attendees at the event, as well as a variety of Scottsdale locals throughout the week. Most of them admitted to me that they don’t like golf, but attend the event religiously (simply to party). To most, it’s no different than a local nightclub (albeit on an extreme level). A successful event, yes… but as a vehicle to actually grow golf, it may not necessarily be the be-all and end-all that its pundits believe it to be.

Now let’s compare this to, say, the event which took place the following week, The AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. In this event, we saw the world’s top players paired with some of the world’s most popular celebrities. From actors like Bill Murray, Ray Romano and Clint Eastwood, to musicians like Huey Lewis and rapper Macklemore, to sports stars like Kelly Slater, Wayne Gretzky and Eli Manning, the fairways were packed with dozens of high-profile personalities.

But here’s the important bit: each one of these celebrities has millions of fans across the globe (and, thus by extension, millions of potential would-be golfers).  This makes these celebrities the perfect ambassadors for golf. And, in my opinion, a far more powerful “force” by which to grow the game. A single Instagram photo of Macklemore, resplendent in his unique golfing attire that week, to his 4.5 million followers is priceless when it comes to inspiring our next generation of golfers.

So before we rush to create more “Party Holes” at our Australian (and global) golf events, perhaps we should take a step back. More celebrity-filled pro-ams, more mixed-gender events (like the Vic Open), and a renewed focus on getting big-name pros in front of juniors (via clinics and events) would, I believe, do far more for the future of our game.

As always, I welcome your comments

See you on the fairways,

Richard Fellner

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