Larry Canning: As far as golfing epiphanies go, this one is a riot

Larry CanningBy Larry Canning

Wow, since I learnt how to spell epiphany I reckon I’ve had a few hundred of them! Well I think I have? I’m not totally sure what they are yet.

At the time of writing this the Waste Management Open in Phoenix (formerly known as the “Rubbish Tip Open”), is on and I’m kicked back on the lounge, cappuccino in hand, enjoying… sorry… researching every shot.

It didn’t take long before the cameras were directed to the raucous, over the top, zany, humorous, famous, infamous 16th hole… not that it’s one of the most majestic examples of golf course architecture in the world. It’s roughly 150 fairly innocuous metres over some sand and cacti (plural for cactus) to a generous green with a couple of bunkers around it. For 51 weeks of the year this hole barely raises an eyebrow. But for four days in February the 16th at TPC Sawgrass goes absolutely bananas!

Between 20 to 30 thousand loud fans cram into the corporate boxes and grandstands which line the entire length of the hole generating continuous cheering and jeering at sound levels resembling those of the first pill bowled at a Boxing Day test. No quiet please signs here, just non stop noise.

In fact, I read recently a well-meaning course marshal attempted to silence a pissed moron who was quite close to the action only to cop a smack in the chops! Apparently there are still marshals raising those magnificent “Quiet Please” signs but they’re about as relevant as my exercise bike.

This one hole’s reported revenue, just from the sale of 275 corporate boxes, is well over 15 million US and with 700,000 spectators attending this tournament each year, I cant even imagine how much dosh is raised come Sunday evening.

The players seem to embrace the cheering/jeering inebriated fans, probably out of necessity, for fear they could be easily targeted if they don’t. How would it be on a late Sunday arvo when you are in or around the lead only to have that many fans audibly taking the piss out of your every move?

I get the opening up of golf to untapped demographics and love the fact the game is booming but by seeing people yelling and screaming as players are hitting are we planting the seed for a different set of ethical and social boundaries in a sport with a wonderful sense of respect for not only the superstars you’re watching but for the guy or girl you’re playing 9 holes with on Friday afternoon?

It felt like an omen when right after Jim Nantz signed off at the end of play, up bobs Warren Smith from Fox Sports with a preview of the day’s live coverage of the Victorian Open.

The first thing I see on my large but cheap TV screen is one of the leading groups walking down the fairway with a few hundred spectators also walking down the middle of the fairway behind them. No ropes, no security, I’m sure there were marshals, but I couldn’t spot one.

Readers, I would hate to think this level of respect by fans might become a thing of the past. I’ve covered this tournament for radio since it moved to 13th Beach some 8 years ago and it’s an absolutely brilliant tournament for so many reasons. One of which is the fact that it’s a given the thousands of spectators watching their favourite players are all trusted to do the right thing and respect the privilege of being so close to the action the sport of golf offers.

Sadly, I don’t know another sport that currently has such a totally opposite culture from one professional event to another, ironically being played at the same time.

My fear is the Scottsdale model will bleed into the rest of the game. I’m not suggesting it could happen next week but I’d be sad to think my grandkids could grow up to a whole new set of golfing protocols to those I grew up with.  

We just watched the Australian Open tennis where they sit a similar number of punters and puntettes into Rod Laver Arena for the final. Sure, there was a handful of disrespectful idiots who got the attention of the media, players and finally the security guards but it was blatantly obvious that by and large, a similar amount of larynxes can cope with 10 seconds of inactivity while a player serves.

My brain and my calculator just ran out of battery trying to estimate how much “Johnny Cash” the WA Phoenix Open generates but surley there’s enough to pay a few hundred security guards and strategically place them in these stands. American sports fans aren’t famous for being shy and by all means go nuts when the boys hit a great shot or hole a snake… but while they are hitting, shut the f*** up! Please? Maybe??

I just looked up epiphany in the Merriam-Webster dictionary:

  • An appearance or manifestation especially of a divine being
  • A usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something
  • An intuitive grasp of reality through something (such as an event)
  • An illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure usually simple and striking

OK… let’s just say I had a moment.


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