If it’s Super Bowl weekend, it must be time for the Super Bowl of golf, the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
If you haven’t been to this thing yet, it’s time to get it off your bucket list and get yourself here. You know you want to go. Just looking at the photo of the coliseum that they erect around the par-3 16th hole every year tells you everything you need to know about the size of the crowds, over 500,000 a year and climbing.
Think of it like a state fair, only with golf as the central attraction instead of livestock. It’s billed as “Greatest Show on Grass,” and you’d have to argue that it is.
First of all, it’s played on the TPC of Scottsdale in, uh, Scottsdale, Arizona. If you are somewhere else in the country, it’s worth burning some of your frequent flier miles to get here. And if you’re going, “Oh, snap! I don’t have any frequent flier miles!” then dig into your pockets for the credit card or cash and treat yourself. The weather will be perfect; the forecast is for low to mid-70s every day, bring a sweater for the evenings. When the sun goes down, so does the temperature. It’s one of the joys of living in the desert.
The TPC is the perfect venue for crowds this large because it’s on relatively flat ground with the holes widely separated from each other; perfect for following your favorite player, milling around the food kiosks or taking a nap in the sun on a knoll.
It’s the knolls that give the course its character and also provide uniformly good views on almost every hole. The coliseum provides great views down on the players as they come through the par 3, but virtually every other hole allows you to look down on the players from a knoll or at least higher ground.
The other reason to come is because of the players who play in it. Just as Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill Tournament attracts all of the Tour players who live in Orlando, the Phoenix Open attracts all of the players who live in Scottsdale and the greater Phoenix area. Some of these guys will literally have a fifteen minute commute. That’s how concise the golf areas of Scottsdale are. There’s nothing like driving in your own car, sleeping in your own bed and not having to worry about your luggage or clubs getting lost.
The other reason that the players come is that they like the TPC Scottsdale course. It was designed by the renowned architectural team of Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish (who have since gone their separate ways). They managed to lay the course on the desert floor in a way that seems to seduce you from one shot to another and design aesthetically pleasing greens that are faired in a way that makes you just want to jump on the green with your putter and try your luck (which you can do when it’s all over; it’s a public course).
After you follow your favorite player in the morning wave back to the clubhouse, you can take a break in one of the many sit-down food courts where you can get all manner of comfort food with appropriate beverages (Mex and margaritas! Yum!). After your break, you can engage in that favorite pastime of figuring out where your favorite player in the afternoon wave might be and how to move across the course to pick him up. Or you can just plop down in one of the numerous grandstands or on one of the moguls and just watch the world go by.
And, if you’re not a local, you might not have heard of the Coors Lite Birds Nest. It’s the off-course party tent you can walk to that brings in name bands and many party goers. It is a ticketed event, so Google, Birds Nest Phoenix Open 2012, to participate in the tournament’s night life.
What does any of this have to do with mastery, you ask? Well, the players have to find a way to integrate their serious approach to staying in the present with some of the patrons’ serious approach to the circus, to the party. It is almost entirely a typically polite, very knowledgeable venue for the players except for one hole, the 16th.
The players think about it the whole way around the course because once you’re inside the coliseum, there’s no place to hide. It will be dead quiet when they hit their shots at which time the place will explode with thousands of fans cheering the ball in the air. If it hits the green, the cheers will grow deafening and if it misses, so will the boos. It’s all in good fun, mostly the fun of the ASU students that started the whole thing. But it’s also a good test for the players to see just how steely their minds can be. You should at least plan to sit in there for a half an hour or so; get there earlier before the lines begin to form.
Luckily there will be no lines to get into the tournament. If you can get here, they’ll eagerly take you in. The more the merrier.