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The Rowdy Golf Tournament Got Too Rowdy This Year

12:16 PM EST on February 12, 2024

SCOTTSDALE, ARIZONA - FEBRUARY 09: (EDITORS NOTE: Image contains nudity.) A fan dressed in costume as William Wallace from Braveheart, runs on the course during the second round of the WM Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale on February 09, 2024 in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Phoenix Open calls itself “the greatest show on grass.” The annual tournament, held at TPC Scottsdale, is basically what LIV Golf wants to be: Four days of raucous, alcohol-soaked mayhem—or at least as much mayhem as a golf tournament can possibly provide. The 16th hole is flanked by grandstands from tee to green. It’s a short, easy hole; it has become known for fans booing when golfers miss the green and wild celebrations when someone gets a hole-in-one.

As with a lot of things about the event, it’s a bit much—and seemingly becoming more so every year. When Sam Ryder got that hole-in-one two years ago, beer cans flew from the stands onto the course. This year, things got a little messier.

That was a literal description, at least at first: Rain soaked the tournament from the start, with several delays due to water and frost. That caused a “parking nightmare” which left the crowd smaller and more subdued than usual. “If anything, it’s more disappointing to me because the atmosphere is not as good as it normally is, with everyone being so cold and wrapped up,” Shane Lowry, who ended up finishing tied for 60th at 3-under, said on the first day. “I’m sure there’s less drinks being taken out there as well, because it’s not exactly nice weather to have a cold beer in your hands.”

The weather stayed cold, but the beer eventually started flowing. At one point the gates were closed and alcohol sales were halted; organizers said that was to encourage fans to move toward the course so more could get in. Some fans were turned away. Golf Magazine said the atmosphere calmed down a bit after this, but this is still the Phoenix Open. This means that "calmed down" was relative.

Things did not always go well for the fans who got in over the weekend. One was carried out. A woman fell from the grandstands at the 16th green and suffered serious injuries. There were fights. One shirtless guy ran onto the 16th green and jumped into a sand trap. Cops and fans had altercations all weekend. And our friend in the lead photo of this story, dressed as William Wallace from Braveheart, ran onto a green and mooned a police officer before being taken away.

Fans almost never run onto the course at golf tournaments—except at the Phoenix Open. Last year a guy in a speedo ran onto the 16th green, pole danced on the flag stick, and jumped into a water hazard. In 2018 a streaker ran onto the course; he said he remembered having eight drinks beforehand. “The alcohol helped,” he said. “I definitely wouldn’t have done it if I was sober.”

The golfers were not any more pleased by this than you'd expect. Jordan Spieth (14-under, T6) said he had trouble getting to the course. Zach Johnson (3-under, T60) yelled at fans: “Don't ‘sir’ me. Somebody said it. I’m just sick of it. Just shut up!” He stormed off.

Billy Horschel (6-under, T41) defended the honor of Nicolo Galletti (2-over, 73): “Buddy, when he's over the shot, shut the hell up, man. Come on, he's trying to hit a damn golf shot here. It's our fucking job.” Spieth, once he got on the course, said “what the fuck” to the gallery. “Shitshows,” Byeong Hun An (1-under, T66) tweeted. “Totally out of control on every hole.”

Johnson told the Arizona Republic he probably wouldn’t be back next year. “This tournament has been inappropriate and crossed the line since I’ve been on tour,” he said, “and this is my 21st year.” (Incidentally: Nick Taylor and Charley Hoffman both finished at 21-under, and Taylor won on the second playoff hole.)

Maybe the golfers are just being babies at the one event where fans let loose. But it seems like things really were out of control. Fans told the Republic conditions were bad for them, too. “It was hard to enjoy the event when it took 30-plus minutes at any concessions and bathrooms were long waits, too,” Todd Williams said. “I felt cramped and anxious,” Elizabeth Suchocki said. “People just kept packing in and packing in and there were people all over. And I was like OK, this is a lot of people, this is very uncomfortable.”

Here’s what happened when things got better, per Golf Magazine’s James Colgan:

Even if social media remained a steady stream of fan misbehavior, the acts remained largely within the realm of traditional WM Phoenix Open debauchery: faceplants, public urination and an apparent mudslide (the act, not the drink). Offenses worthy of the ire of players—screaming in backswings, crowd movement around the putting green, blatant disregard for typical golf etiquette—continued too, but at that point in the weekend, it was hard to feign surprise.

The tournament began in 1932, but it kicked off its raucous era when it moved to TPC Scottsdale in 1987. Matt Mooney, the assistant chair of the tournament, said what sent a generally raucous tournament into the stratosphere was Tiger Woods’ first-ever shot on the 16th hole a decade later.

“We look back on it now and laugh because there was one row of bleachers and it was surrounded by Arizona State students drinking beer,” he said. “But that image alone, of Tiger, catapulted the event to just another level. All of a sudden we realized, ‘Holy cow, we got something here we can run with.’”

The tournament has leaned into this, and by now the debauchery is something like their sales pitch. They sell shirts joking about the tournament’s mass drunkenness. The PGA Tour flaunts the event’s crowds. And why not? The tournament is unique. It makes people money. But when you build your event around people getting plastered, well, sometimes this is what you get.

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