The First Call Inbox

Has the WM Phoenix Open reached its tipping point?

Readers of The First Call do not hold back in assessing whether the PGA Tour event has crossed the line on a number of fronts — mostly related to alcohol and boorish fan behavior

2022 WM Phoenix Open
A unified group of fans during the third round of the 2022 WM Phoenix Open.

Question of the week [February 12-18]: Does the WM Phoenix Open have an alcohol problem after the hole-in-one celebrations in 2022 and the suspension of alcohol sales on Saturday at this year's event?
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The WM Phoenix Open has a serious alcohol issue problem on several levels. First and foremost, they are risking the safety of those in attendance to watch golf, as well as the safety of those that are being overserved. They will be subject to lawsuits when innocent bystanders become injured. WM has deep pockets, so juries will likely deem them as the negligent party and award large penalties to the plaintiffs.

They also are at risk of losing their alcohol license as it is illegal to serve obviously inebriated customers. There is plenty of obvious video evidence that this has been an ongoing issue.  

I, for one, would never consider attending as I chose not to be around that many out-of-control people for mine and my family's safety.  

Tim Pittman
West End, North Carolina

The Phoenix Open was the idea/spirit behind LIV Golf. It was to make the "stuffy" game of golf more appealing to the masses ... which it did. The downside is that too much of a good thing can be bad, which is where we are now. It has spiraled out of control. Once steps are taken to rein it back in, it will lose some appeal to the masses, but it will undoubtedly restore some civility to that tournament. 

Rob King
Savannah, Georgia

Do they have an alcohol problem at WMPO? No, probably a million gallons consumed every year. This tournament has progressed very nicely along an extremely easily identifiable path toward "PARTY!!!".

Will they attempt to rein it in? Maybe, but I’ll be more than pleasantly surprised that the audience that has been showing up for the last 10-plus years is going to mildly accept any new rules, regulations or restrictions that slow down their “PARTY!!!”.

In the past, I marshaled at a PGA event, learned to avoid the weekends when there were too many drinkers and non-golfers, which required too much adult babysitting.

Mark Chatfield
Houston, Texas

I believe this is and has been a problem for years. Each year the tournament tries to outdo the previous year. Throw in the noise and entertainment of LIV Golf, and this is what you get. But the PGA Tour caters to this performance.

Jim Will
The Villages, Florida

I don’t watch it, any of it, for any length of time. I can’t stand the idiot noise and the announcers reveling in it. And the Kevin Kisner duo trying to emulate ESPN’s Peyton and Eli Manning commentary was way off base. That’s not golf. 

If you want a rowdy crowd, go to a soccer game or a hockey game. Golf is not either of those, and what this tournament has become is a disgrace to the game — remember the “gentleman” part? And while I’m at it, I put the whole advancement of the game to this level of debauchery on Mr. Tiger Woods with that ridiculous fist pump thang. That’s not golf either. Can you imagine Ben Hogan or Sam Sneed doing that back in the day? It works for throwing a touchdown pass or scoring a goal, but not in golf. Come on, man. So, in closing, the PGA Tour de Farce has lost me for this tourney. 

Bert J. McCauley
Cheyenne, Wyoming

They truly do have an alcohol problem. This was a fine idea at first, but it has now gotten so out of hand. They catered to this raucous crowd and encouraged rooting and booing. Beer was available from early in the day. There should be no shock at this behavior.

It’s very similar to the sorry state of the Ryder Cup. What had been a super event with great sportsmanship has devolved into poor behavior by the crowds — poor behavior actually encouraged by the pros participating. The golfers wave their arms, cup their ears to encourage loudness, and generally behave poorly. 

This gets worse every two years. I shudder to think what it will be like at Bethpage Black [in 2025] with the boorish locals ramping up the disruptions as fools like Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas encourage their respective fans to act out.

Vinny Mooney
Poughkeepsie, New York

Not as much in 2022 but this year's Saturday? Yes it did [cross the line]. Don't get me wrong, in any given year there is a ton of alcohol consumption and misbehavior at the "Greatest Show on Turf," so it already was not every golfer’s favorite tournament.  

But 2024’s frequent delays and the cold weather was sure to add to the amount of fuel this very large crowd ingested, and likely poured more than the usual celebrants into deeper inebriation.

The usually dry mounding that houses thousands on this TPC-designed course was too wet for fans to use, adding to the in-your-face atmosphere and less real estate for the drunks to spread out (or for serious fans to find refuge).   

We’ve seen the belly flops in the mud and sand before, but this year was different because of the closing of the main gate and the stopping of alcohol sales on Saturday afternoon. So, yes, they saw a problem, took action, and fortunately no one was seriously injured.

iPhones have been around for years but, as of recent, we now see more sharks near beaches than ever before, so logic follows that more recordings of drunks, urinations and player flair-ups would show up this year.

I also believe guest broadcaster NBC overhyped the feistiness of the 16th-hole crowd — at the expense of live action elsewhere — as a way of an audition for the next PGA Tour TV package. But even they backed off on Sunday.

The problems of 2024 already are being addressed by the tournament organizers, the PGA Tour and local public safety officials. Updating both conduct signage and its tolerance, better ticket and gate entry practices, and more policing will tighten things up and be ready to roll much better next year.  

Steve Moore
Birmingham, Alabama

It has gotten so far out of hand — it's a drunkfest. Totally unacceptable in any sport. This needs to be addressed and corrected before the next tournament is conducted.

Kell Ferguson
Hilton Head, South Carolina

The actions at the WM Phoenix Open are without a doubt a black eye for professional golf. If the key sponsor, Waste Management, doesn’t demand significant changes in next year’s event, I would be shocked. This is an embarrassment for the PGA Tour and actions need to taken immediately. This display cannot be repeated and I would hope that PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan speaks up and demands it be addressed now.
Paul Vicary
The Villages, Florida

It is obvious to everyone watching in person or on TV that there is a problem. Most would be thrown out of any game in any other sport. 

It reminds me of Pullman on weekends.

John Gildow 
Camano Island, Washington

You can't have it both ways. The tournament likes to tout itself as being for the people and one where you can go and have fun. A lot of alcohol sales seem to go along with trying to accomplish that. You can have a raucous tournament and get lots of involvement from the fans or you can cut back on the alcohol sales, become more sedate and restrict a lot of the areas where fans are allowed to go. Or you could do away with alcohol altogether and greatly alter the famous arena par 3. However, then you no longer have the selling point for which the tournament is famous.

Bob Norris
Cincinnati, Ohio

This tournament has turned into a frat boy exhibition of loutishness beyond description. As a local, I stopped going to the tournament years ago due to the drunken s---show it has become. Hooligans come from all over the country to misbehave in spectacular fashion. There is no respect for the game, the players and spectators who just want to see golf.

Tom Klabunde
Tempe, Arizona

Of course the WM Phoenix Open has a problem with public drunkenness. It has for years. And there's much blame to go around. During Friday's second-round coverage on Golf Channel, for example, at least one on-course camera and the announcers effectively encouraged such debauchery by featuring a shirtless fat slob in his late-20s, belly-sliding down a muddy, rain-soaked hill as if it were innocent fun akin to little kids sliding down the hill on cardboard in Williamsport during the Little League World Series.

Rather than make light of this disgraceful reprobate, Golf Channel's announce team instead should have castigated him like Dean Wormer in Animal House: "Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son." 

To be fair, making a non-major golf event relevant on Super Bowl weekend may require some novelty. And even stodgy old-schoolers might concede that a taste of LIV raucousness around the 16th hole is largely harmless. But neither WM, the Thunderbirds nor any others responsible for or connected to this increasingly unhinged event can claim innocence in helping to promote a mob mentality with unlimited galleries and ubiquitous alcohol sales. (And just wait until an over-served drunk from the event crosses a double-yellow on the way home and kills an innocent family of five in a minivan.)

As social media and other forces work steadily to coarsen society, the keepers of the great game of golf must be ever more vigilant in defending its traditional civility and sportsmanship. One would have hoped that American golf had learned an important lesson 25 years ago when a drunkenly vile Bostonian spat upon Colin Montgomerie's then 70-year-old father during Sunday play of the Ryder Cup at Brookline Country Club. But that lesson now seems long forgotten by both Phoenix sponsors and organizers, and by PGA Tour executives themselves.

No one need be a tea-totaling prude to be alarmed and dismayed by the collective failure in recent years to uphold even the basic rules of decency in Phoenix. And God help golf if someone doesn't step up soon to redraw and begin enforcing again some of the game's traditional boundaries, which had been established and long respected for good reason.

Darren McKinney
Washington, D.C.

It has an a-hole problem. Alcohol makes it worse.

Chris Belanger
Cincinnati, Ohio

They need to limit the size of the crowd. One-hundred thousand per day is more than enough. Restricting the hours when alcohol is served each day would be a second item. I'm guessing the suites were pouring Bloody Marys as soon as the gates open.  

Mark Kazich
Darien, Illinois

If you look at the WM Phoenix Open situation — hole No. 16 — as only one week a year, then one becomes more tolerant of the boorishness and chaos. Having said that, this year we saw a serious injury on hole No. 16 and arguably a decline in behavior, which may be a concern to the Thunderbirds who operate the tournament.

Is it really only one week a year, though? Copycat party holes are appearing at other PGA Tour events and that does concern me. I was at the RBC Canadian Open last summer and they have “the rink,” which is a complete copy of No. 16 at TPC Scottsdale. Excessive drinking and yelling by young males is the name of the game and golf is only a sideshow at that hole.

Golf, as we know it, is frantically searching for a younger demographic, anything that will bring down the average age of the viewer/spectator. Party holes, rock concerts and any other endeavor that appeals to the younger demographic is welcome or open for consideration. As part of the older demographic this reality does not bother me at all because traditional golf is played at the 17 other holes. As for the party hole, it's an amazing spectacle and is fun 99% of the time. I can live with it.

Controlling alcohol sales may be a good idea and I know the Thunderbirds take great pride in their tournament, so I feel confident they will review this year's situation as it pertains to fan behavior. I think we can all agree we want everyone to be safe, so the serious injury to the female spectator needs to be investigated thoroughly. For those about to rock, we salute you. Party on!

Reid Farrill
Toronto, Ontario

Each year the 16th hole gets more rowdy and it is spreading out onto other holes. Spectators are hollering at players during shots, especially if they are not rooting for them. Alcohol sales should be severely curtailed for both Saturday and Sunday or else someone will get seriously hurt.  

I used to enjoy the tournament, but all the rowdies just work at how obnoxious they can be during a round.  

On the 16th, they need to toss anyone who throws an object. Let them shout and boo, but a beer can from the top tier can severely injure a player or caddy.

Mike Sickels 
Yuba City California

I doubt you can get the genie back in the bottle, but the WM Phoenix Open has lost me as a viewer who enjoys watching golf. Thank goodness for the Super Bowl.

Greg Schenkel
Fernandina Beach, Florida / Indianapolis, Indiana

Let's remember that the PGA Tour, like it or not, is now part of a very large network of sports that a person can gamble on. Rowdy, raucous and drunken fans could easily affect the outcome of a golf shot. Billy Horschel lit into the fan precisely because of that.

The Tour must take some action regarding this. 

Dave Curley
Las Vegas, Nevada

Yes [the WM Phoenix Open has a problem], but only a small problem that some improved methods will alleviate and which the Thunderbirds have already indicated they will do.

Fan actions were only slightly elevated from years past. Nothing new, just bigger, more spread out and noticeable. The unique confluence of weather, mud and congestion led to these issues. Further, we understand there were numerous security officers resigning after Friday’s episodes, which exacerbated the scene.  

The T-birds will likely consider pre-tournament warnings, limits for Saturday attendance, larger and tighter security, more ejections and closer monitoring/limiting of alcohol sales.  

The popularity of our event and benefits to the growth of the game are worth managing, not destroying.  

Gary Stauffenberg
Phoenix, Arizona

I enjoyed watching the WM Phoenix Open, and it’s good to see that the spectators are having fun. I thought Zach Johnson overreacted to the comment made to him. Golf is still entertainment, and if you can’t take any joking, then you shouldn’t play at the WMPO, and he won’t be missed.

Golf is bigger than the player.

Tim Scott
Orland Park, Illinois

For about 10 years, my wife and I attended the WM Phoenix Open. It was far and away the best deal in golf. For $25 each we would attend the Open on Sundays because the Super Bowl also being played reduced the attendance to about 60,000, rather than the 200,000 plus attendees of Saturday.

At first, it was fun spending some time in the stands surrounding the 16th hole. Then it became nasty. Booing, swearing and drinking to excess became glorified.

The Golf Channel thought it was funny to make a mockery of the decency of the game when played at its best. Now it is completely out of control.

Then greed took over. A $25 ticket is now $65 and climbing.

So much for class, restraint and respect for the game.

Ray Edger
Surrey, British Columbia

I believe there are two problems with the event. First, a good proportion of the fans are not regular golf fans. This leads to the growth of the mob atmosphere at the 16th hole. The Tiger Woods hole-in-one was one of the coolest moments ever on a golf course. It was organic. They are trying to manufacture moments now and the encouragement of excessive drinking doesn't help. The advent of accessible sports betting will put players in danger soon. 

The second issue is the obsession with "growing the game." The talking heads on Golf Channel glorify this behavior and, with the new equity partners looking to make a profit, we can expect to see more of it at other stops. With the attempt to bring golf to mainstream sports fan, we will dilute what is great about our game.  

William Galinas
Broomall, Pennsylvania

Unfortunately the name says it all ... it’s not about the golf, it’s about the fans.

The tournament lost control years ago and TV has been a willing participant in moving the focus from the golf to the fans. We used to attend, but quit due to the degenerative fans' behavior fueled by alcohol. Find a way to limit the impact of alcohol and take back control. Real golf fans will continue to leave ... followed by the players. Unfortunately the current fan base will never notice nor will they care. It’s no longer a golf tournament, but a massive out-of-control party.

Bryan Schrandt 
Greenville, South Carolina

Yes, the Phoenix Open has an alcohol problem. The foundation of the problem starts with the tournament’s image. The videos we see of thousands of patrons throwing beer at the 16th hole when a player makes an ace looks cool to the partygoers in the crowd. And that’s what the event is to a lot of attendees — just an opportunity to get drunk and do stupid stuff in the process. Oh look, there’s somebody hitting a little white ball. I’ll have another beer. 

The defense of the totally out of control number of people at the event each day is look what The Thunderbirds do for charity in the valley.  While the end result may be positive cash flow to these organizations, how the funds are generated matter and it also should matter to the PGA. 

What needs to happen imo is to limit the ticket sales to reasonable numbers and limit alcohol sales which can be accomplished in a number of ways which are in use in many other venues around the world. 

An additional issue, which is a byproduct of the over-serving problem, is the loud inconsiderate group of fans who are yelling out to the players sometimes during their swings. Does the tournament have a security force in place? It doesn’t appear that they do or, if so, the representatives need to be trained to spot these idiots and escort them off the course. Revoke their ability to purchase tickets in the future and print on the tickets and other handout materials the expectations for behavior of all patrons.

The fans doing the shouting during or even just before a player hits a shot, don’t play golf and are not true golf fans. If they were either, they would understand that the players are out there trying to make a living and one wayward shot in a hazard or other trouble can be the difference in getting a check that week or going home in the red. 

After this year’s event, I have decided not to watch it on TV in the future. I listened to podcasts and other sources afterwards talking about how the tour needs more excitement, like what the Phoenix Open provides. I couldn’t disagree more.

Pete Kellos
Bluffton, South Carolina 

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