written by Harry McInley
This year was the first year I watched a good amount of the Waste Management Phoenix Open in Arizona. It’s one of the better known events on the PGA Tour because of the iconic Par 3 16th hole which is completely surrounded by a stadium. Generally, I was very impressed with the event and the viewing experience had me gripped. In saying that, it still could have been better – so whilst this is a positive sign for golf I still the the sport misses opportunities to double down on what it’s doing right.
The Stadium Hole (see cover photo) – This is just an awesome addition to any tournament. To have the players come through a tunnel and be greeted by a raucous stadium brings out the best and worst of the characters in golf. I think this is what people want to see more – how they react when the pressure and the atmosphere is cranked up a notch. We’ve seen what it does to certain players during the Ryder Cup but why shouldn’t there be more party-like atmospheres at other events? I’d like to see this concept being used at other golf events.
Noise Levels – There were several occasions where players encouraged the thousands of fans to keep the noise levels up as they hit their shots on 16. We’ve learnt from this and the Ryder Cup that professionals can still hit shots when it’s not stone cold silence. Of course, at many golf tournaments this isn’t going to happen and shouldn’t happen, but really, does there need to be complete silence every time someone takes a shot?
The Attendance – There was a record attendance of 719,000 across the whole week and 216,000 on the Sunday which is amazing numbers for a PGA Tour event. The positives of these numbers don’t really need to be spelt out, and this was on Superbowl Sunday too.
Protracers – More and more pro tracers are being used now both on tee shots and shots from fairways which makes watching each shot 10x better. In fact, once you’ve seen a few any shot which doesn’t have a pro tracer seems ridiculous – you can’t see anything. I’d like to see graphics of where the hole is so you can see where the players are aiming and more insight into the shot shapes from commentators. I don’t think it will be long before every televised shot has one.
This putt by John Rahm:
Pace of play not an issue for Jon Rahm. ? pic.twitter.com/umgjgyAdnN
— Charlie Kane (@PGATOURKane) February 4, 2018
The Playoff was on 18 – It seemed stupid to me that the big feature of the whole week was the par 3 16th, and yet the playoff between Gary Woodland and Chez Reavie was still played on 18. Traditionalists will say that a playoff hole shouldn’t be played on a Par 4, but a playoff on the stadium-encapsulated 16th would have made for great viewing. This is an example where golf isn’t willing to double down and take a bit of a risk.
BBC Sport – I refreshed the BBC Sport feed a few times on Sunday evening to check the leader board. Not only was the golf nowhere to be seen on the main feed, when I chose ‘golf’ as the sport there wasn’t even a live leader board, only an article from the standings from the previous day. This is not helping any new audiences hear about a cool golf event.
The Commentary – Boring, old, dull commentators on Sky Sports really took the shine off what was a very forward-thinking event. It was topped off when Rickie Fowler hit it on the water from his tee shot on 15 – a huge moment – only to be greeted with 10 seconds of silence and then a single line of ‘that’s a mishap from Rickie’… I’d like to see younger, more exuberant characters taking up the mic and why not give the players a mic so we can get some insight into their psyche?
Lack of Music – I really think you can double down on the electric atmosphere created on the 16th hole. I like the idea of entrance tunes for certain players (maybe not in an individual event) or DJs playing as the players walk from tee to green.
The Field – Whilst there was Rickie, Phil and Rahm, there were several big names missing who I think should all be present at this tournament.
There are certain golf tournaments that should always stay the way they are. We’re talking the majors, and some events that are steeped in history. The quiet fairways and the respectful galleries are all part of what makes them so great. For me, however, there are far too many ‘boring’ tournaments that don’t stand out due to a lack of creativity and unwillingness to change. The Waste Management Phoenix Open is clearly run by a group of people that are willing to think a bit differently and I think they are paving the way for more event and tournament organisers to create more attractive atmospheres around the sport. This will only help audience levels, participation levels, sponsorship interest and a general evolution of the game.