Sound on: The party has returned to Phoenix Open

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Fans circle the ninth hole as groups make their way up the fairway during the Phoenix Open golf tournament Thursday, Feb. 10, 2022, in Scottsdale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Darryl Webb)

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – The hum resonates five, six fairways away, the hive of activity beckoning all to join the three-story party perched on grass. It's a constant cacophony, punctuated by boos rising into the desert air, roars rolling like shockwaves to the course's outer reaches.

Inside, the boozy, boisterous swarm emits a relentless buzz, an underlay to the shouts, catcalls and chants reverberating off the walls.

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The golfers, typically perturbed by the slightest shadow or break from silence, embrace the chaos, raising hands to ears for more roars, shrugging off the jeers for the slightest miscalculation.

After a one-year pandemic hiatus, the curtain has dropped for The Greatest Show on Grass. The temporary stadium around TPC Scottsdale's par-3 16th hole has again taken center stage.

“This is a quite the show here, quite the party and quite the atmosphere,” Graeme McDowell said before shooting 68-74 to miss the cut at the Phoenix Open.

Once just another stop on the PGA Tour's West Coast swing, the Phoenix Open has turned into one of golf's greatest spectacles.

Hundreds of thousands of golf fans descend upon the desert course daily during the tournament — a PGA Tour-record 216,000 in 2018 — creating decibel levels more suited for a football game.

The 16th hole is the rowdy epicenter. A nondescript par-3 the rest of the year, it becomes a three-layer cake of pandemonium during the tournament, more than 20,000 often-inebriated fans creating golf's version of a party cruise.

The coronavirus pandemic put a damper on the revelry, like lights flicking on and off for last call at a bar.

The 2020 tournament went off without a hitch, with Webb Simpson beating Tony Finau in a playoff about a month before the world shut down.

The 2021 tournament felt like a post-apocalyptic version of the Phoenix Open. The tournament, held while the pandemic still raged, was limited to 5,000 fans daily. The stadium at No. 16, still nearly the same size as usual, looked nearly deserted with a capacity of 2,000.

This year, the gates were wide open and the fans couldn't wait to rush through.

Well over 100,000 spread across TPC Scottsdale for each of the first two rounds, the largest contingents congregated in and around the the massive grandstands lining the holes closest to the clubhouse.

Many move in packs: bros in matching outfits or brightly colored, short-legged rompers, women who appear more ready for a night out than a golf tournament in their tight dresses and high heels. There was even a crew of beardless Santas on Friday.

And they certainly brought their outside voices, roaring in approval for good shots, booing bad ones, shouting the occasional inappropriate comment.

“I love when people get rowdy,” said Brooks Koepka, who entered Saturday's third round two shots behind leader Sahith Theegala at 10 under. “They’re cheering you when you hit it tight, and they’re booing you when you hit it bad. It almost feels like a real sport, like football, basketball, things like that, soccer.”

The 16th hole is again the shouting heart of the party.

The debauchery starts around dawn, when fans, many of whom continue the party from the night before, line up outside the gates and sprint to the stadium hole to get the primo spots.

Once inside, they create a coliseum of chaos, a constant din streaming down from people pressed against rails, jammed into seats, lined up at drink stands and port-a-potties.

Golf seems to be secondary to the good time to be had. The PGA Tour put the kibosh on caddy races a few years ago, but the fans have found other ways to create entertainment, chanting for scoreboard carriers to twirl their boards — most do — or to get people across the stadium to acknowledge them.

On Friday, fans in the south stands picked out a guy with an unbuttoned shirt on the north side and started a chant of “hairy chest!” The man pulled off his shirt, rubbed his hairy chest and poured a beer over his head, setting off a cheer rivaling any for a golf shot that day.

There was even a marriage proposal on 16. She said yes.

“The fans here are great,” Justin Thomas said. “There’s no tournament like it, there doesn’t need to be another tournament like it. This place stands on its own for a reason and I know I enjoy it.”

Party, back on.


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