Par Tee On!

The Phoenix Open is the world's biggest and rowdiest golf tournament. Have the Open and its notorious Bird's Nest party tent killed the game of golf, or just given it some life?

Being a responsible college student, Larsh Kellogg generally avoided getting drunk before noon on weekdays.

But really special occasions warranted really special drinking. For a few days in late January, Kellogg would dash back from his morning class at Arizona State University, load up a car with a few buddies and 12 beers and race to get the beer down before the car arrived at the Tournament Players Club of Scottsdale.

It's called "priming." And it's a beloved pregame ritual for all European soccer hooligans, some American football fans and a uniquely large percentage of attendees at one golf tournament in the world, the Phoenix Open.

"It's a party," Kellogg says of the tournament, which starts next week at the TPC golf course. "I love golf. I love to watch the golf out there. But the fact is, it's a big party. And that's what makes it so unique and so big and, well . . . you know, so full of so many drunk idiots."

If you've never been to a PGA event, the traditional role of a golf audience is to behave like Rockefellers at a Presbyterian funeral on Martha's Vineyard. You just clap politely when you would otherwise weep discreetly.

That's not the Phoenix Open. The Phoenix Open is half a million people spending a week acting like they just hit the Schlitz tent at a monster truck rally. And this drives some PGA players, PGA suits, golf purists and just plain decent people to distraction.

Indeed, while the Phoenix Open is the most-attended golf tournament in the world, nearly double the size of the next largest tournament, it is also the tournament most accused worldwide of sparking the decline of Western civilization's most civilized popular sport.

In 1997, for example, fans showered the 16th tee box with beer and cans after Tiger Woods hit a hole in one. The giant galleries at the par-3 also have a tradition of booing golfers who miss the green with their tee shots.

In 1999, Woods was followed by a heckler who, when confronted by security, was found to be carrying a handgun.

Last year, a fan at 16 yelled for Casey Martin to "walk it off" after his tee shot fell short of the green. Martin can barely walk because a degenerative disease is killing one of his legs.

David Duval also was heckled for much of his third round last year, with fans at the 13th hole chanting for him to "hit it in the water."

Fan behavior has earned the Open some blistering critiques in national sports publications. Players including Woods and Duval have threatened not to return if Open fans aren't reined in.

Other players deal with the Phoenix Open with special training. In practice rounds before the tournament, Scottsdale's Phil Mickelson and other players scream and heckle one another as they drive and putt.

Tournament organizers say the accusations of widespread hooliganism are overblown media creations. They note that the more than 100,000 fans who visit the Phoenix Open each day are remarkably well-behaved. And if it was so bad, they ask, why are 26 of the top 30 golfers in the world coming to play? (Tiger Woods and David Duval had not committed as of press time, but organizers said they were convinced the two would come. Both Woods and Duval have said recently that scheduling conflicts, not fan behavior, is the reason they have yet to commit.)

That said, organizers are taking radical steps to reform, most notably by promising to boot hecklers at first hoot and by moving the famously Dionysian party tent, the Bird's Nest, a few miles east of the golf course.

The new Bird's Nest is near the tournament's major parking lot. Shuttles will run continuously to the tournament from the parking lot and the Bird's Nest. Organizers hope the shuttle system, which cost $250,000, will relieve traffic while also creating a small hurdle for pure partyers, who they hope will stay roosted at the Nest while real golf fans (those who know and respect golf etiquette) will shuttle to the tournament.

The tournament's new ad slogan is "the game comes first."

At the same time, though, few want to make the Phoenix Open feel like the Masters, that anal-retentive Skull & Bones ceremony held each spring in Augusta, Georgia. In fact, corporate tents and public grandstands are being expanded at the Open, even at the notorious 16th.

The new off-site Bird's Nest is now bigger than a football field with a full slate of fairly well-known music groups. The Bird's Nest now has its own publicity campaign separate from the golf tournament. While Phoenix Open ads promote civility, the new Bird's Nest ads -- on billboards, in print and on tee shirts -- promote revelry with slogans like: "Frankly, the golf had become a distraction."

So, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde now have separate pads. Sort of.

"It's a frickin' blast and we want it to stay that way," says tournament director John Perkinson as he barrels through the undulating TPC grounds on his golf cart. "We absolutely want to create an environment where the golfers are shown the utmost respect, but we also don't want to ever hurt the incredible atmosphere out here."

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