Par Tee On!
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."
"The atmosphere at the Phoenix Open fits Phoenix," two-time Open winner and Ahwatukee resident Mark Calcavecchia tells New Times. "I hope the rest of the Tour never becomes like the Phoenix Open, but I would never want the Phoenix Open to turn into all the other tournaments, either."
For the most part, the troublemakers are you, the overly casual residents of Phoenix, as well as the euphoric winter golf junketeers who have made the Valley the new golf capital of the world (Maricopa County now has the most golf holes of any county on Earth).
The head troublemaker, then, is 90-year-old Bob Goldwater, the legendary booster/reveler who, with the help of his garishly costumed frat buddies in the Thunderbirds, began the Phoenix Open more than 60 years ago as a free-spirited little advertisement showing Americans the joys of living in the Valley of the Sun.
In essence, the Phoenix Open is not just a rowdy old golf tournament. It is the longest-running and one of the most influential advertisements and vision statements for the Valley of the Sun. And some argue that the city of Phoenix would not be both thriving and sprawling without the help of Bob Goldwater, the Phoenix Open and the philosophy of golf populism they championed.
"The Phoenix Open is a direct reflection of this city," Perkinson says. "I see that as a great thing. But I would guess some people don't."
"Oh, holding the Open wasn't a big idea," Bob Goldwater says as he gives a tour of the celebrity golf photos in his Scottsdale home. "It was just a fun little idea that kept growing and growing and growing until it got big."
Most of the photos -- Bob and Bing, Bob and Bob Hope and Bob Jones, Bob and Every Bob That Mattered -- hang in the hallway and in what Goldwater calls his "pit of nostalgia," a bright, airy den overlooking a lush yard that backs up the golf course of the Phoenician, the impeccably swanky resort built by junk financier Charles Keating.
In his yard sits a synthetic pitch-and-putt green peppered with several dozen Top Flite balls. Goldwater, lean and remarkably agile at 90, scoops up a ball and tosses it high into the air. It lands on the green with a dull thud and stops.
"See, if it was Astro Turf, that ball would have shot up and run off the green," he says. "But with this stuff, the ball sticks like on a real green. It's neat, isn't it?"
Goldwater and his brother, Barry, learned the game from their mother, who, after moving to the Valley from Chicago to remedy respiratory problems, became one of the top female amateur golfers in the Southwest. The boys were regulars at the elite Phoenix Country Club and both Barry and Bob soon became scratch golfers.
And, as they continued the expansion of the family department store, the brothers also became civic leaders.
In the 1930s, the Phoenix Chamber of Commerce's major civic event was a Southwestern-themed festival called the Fiesta del Sol. The event lost money each year and was a copy of countless such festivals throughout the Western United States. In the late 1930s, Bob Goldwater and some friends had a better idea. The chamber should put on a lively professional golf tournament that coincided with the dead of the northern winter.
The chamber could build on a little pro-am the Goldwaters and friends had started at the Phoenix Country Club back in the early 1930s (Barry and pro Ky Laffoon teamed up to win the first tournament).
The plan was simple: Lure great golfers with the promise of great weather, great fun and a great hospitality in the atmosphere of a laid-back, fun-loving Western town.
A top field would draw national sportswriters who would send back dispatches describing top-shelf golf played in four straight days of sunny 70-degree weather. Those stories would reach depressed golf nuts in Chicago and Des Moines and other northern cities as they sat imprisoned by the bleakest stretch of midwinter.
"It was all timing," Goldwater says. "My mom grew up in western Nebraska and went to school in Chicago and she would talk about how tough this time of winter could be on your brain. It's a rough time to hear about people playing outside in the sun. We just figured people couldn't help but come be a part of it."
Then World War II hit and the region was flooded with servicemen and factory workers. Tens of thousands stayed behind or returned quickly after the war ended. Phoenix had been discovered as a sunny haven for anyone who wanted to spend more of their year enjoying outdoor activities.
Over the coming decades, golf emerged as the king of those outdoor activities.
The influx of golfing northerners would build the employment base for large companies. And the influx of people would put pressure on land values of once dirt-cheap desert parcels. And somebody would have to build houses and golf courses on those ever-more-valuable parcels of land.
Goldwater and his business/golfing buddies, particularly Del Webb, started giving some of that cheap land to golf course management companies to build courses. Developers made their money back with lot premiums on course-side homes. The deal allowed homebuilders and golf courses to keep their costs down and, so, allowed them to offer golf community lifestyles to middle-class Americans who could never before afford them.
Webb started Sun City in the late 1950s. Others followed. Goldwater built Moon Valley in the 1960s.
Fed by cheap piped-in water, buoyed by an atmosphere of anti-regulatory, anti-government Goldwater conservatism toward everything but cheap piped-in water, the little idea ultimately lured hundreds of thousands of northerners and earned billions for those who owned the means of producing this sunny playground.
Now, golf courses are the centerpiece of choice for major developers in the Western United States. So now you have Western cities populated by golfers.
"After the success of Webb's project and some others, golf courses became a must," says Roger Smith, co-owner of Scottsdale Development Inc. and a major Valley developer since the 1970s. "You just sell the golf course land for one dollar and go from there. A good golf course means you're always looking at a much faster buildout."
The cultural implications of this golf-centrism, some argue, are that Phoenix is a city with no culture.
"Hogwash," Goldwater says.
In Goldwater's equation, the other essential ingredient for a successful Phoenix golf tournament was fun. The Phoenix Open wouldn't be like those stuffy eastern tournaments or those tournaments held at the increasingly gentrified California clubs. It should ooze Southwestern hospitality and frontier egalitarianism and a bit of the mythical Western outlaw party flair.
This was easy to accomplish. Bob Goldwater, the legendary playboy, just needed to make the tournament feel like one of his parties.
Goldwater grins impishly when asked about the famous post-tournament follies at his old home on the third fairway of the Phoenix Country Club. Everybody from Bing Crosby to Babe Didriksen was there and, as was the culture then, they all drank hard and played hard. He won't deny the Phoenix Open gained its saucy reputation early in life.
"The whole atmosphere was so loose and so fun," he says. "That's why people wanted to come back.
"But not everybody thought everything we did was appropriate. By the 1950s, the PGA was becoming a big money thing. And some of what we did didn't fit with the image they wanted to convey."
John Perkinson is the product of the Thunderbirds' push for diversity. Sure, he's a white male developer golfer, but he is a white male developer golfer from Mesa. And unlike most Thunderbird members, he was not in a fraternity.
"Coming from my background, the ritual stuff was a little weird at first," he says. "But you get used to it. The main things are the friendships and the incredible work the Thunderbirds do for charity."
The Thunderbirds started back in the mid-1930s as the Phoenix Chamber's special events committee. In time, with the help of guys like Bob Goldwater, the group evolved into a sort of half serious/half parody fraternal organization.
The club takes in members -- men only -- from ages 30 to 45. They recruit from their friends or business associates.
They have vaguely Native American rituals, with the president of the group being referred to as "the Big Chief." They dress a lot like Shriners, usually wearing their trademark tunics and silver medallions. They find endless humor in tacky pants. (The Thunderbirds have a "Crazy Pants Day" in the days leading up to the tournament.)
At the same time, the organization also does serious career building. By the 1960s, you weren't an up-and-coming Phoenix business WASP if you weren't one of the 55 active Thunderbirds. (There are currently two Hispanic and two African-American members.)
And you weren't a Thunderbird if you didn't know how to have a little fun.
"They had to have the right personality," Goldwater says of the selection process that brought in Perkinson, which ends with a straight majority vote of the active members. "They had to have the time and the desire to work hard, but they had to be good guys, too."
So, as they raised money and built careers, the Thunderbirds also picked up a reputation for tomfoolery, quality parties and, on the darker side, the "summer bachelor" swinging of their fathers and grandfathers.
For their hard work on the Phoenix Open, the Thunderbirds were rewarded with the Bird's Nest, their own exclusive little party tent at the Open. It was the place to be seen. Over the decades, that party tent grew to hold hundreds, then thousands, and now, in its new location, more than 9,000.
On a recent sunny weekday morning, Perkinson cruises the TPC grounds where he's overseeing the construction of grandstands and party tents.
In the mid-1980s, the tournament moved from the Phoenix Country Club to the Tournament Players Club, a stadium course built to accommodate what would become the world's largest golf audiences. Perkinson weaves through massive berms that provide giant earthen grandstands for fans. He pulls up to the steel skeletons of what will become sprawling corporate tents, the money-generating Open equivalent of stadium skyboxes. With grandstands in place, the TPC of Scottsdale comfortably holds more than 150,000 spectators.
The corporate tents and massive crowds are a necessity for the Phoenix Open. That's how the Thunderbirds make their money for charity. And that's how the tournament can continue to be an international advertisement for the Valley.
Without huge crowds and their dollars, the Open would have to turn to a corporate sponsor to pay for the skyrocketing tournament purses. With corporate sponsors, you get corporate tournament names such as the Buick Open.
"Tell me where the Buick Open is played," Perkinson says. "You have no idea where any of these tournaments are played anymore. For a city, that defeats the whole purpose. We want to keep it the Phoenix Open, and to do that, we need lots of people to pay for it."
This year's purse is $4 million, up from $3.2 million in 2000. That's up from $500 in the mid-1930s. This year's winner takes home $725,000.
Perkinson pulls up to the TPC's 16th tee box, now hallowed and infamous ground in the golf world. Construction workers are busy assembling corporate grandstands to the south and west. This year, these grandstands will wrap around to the tee box's north side, which will now include stadium-type seating for the general public.
The new seating may help buffer golfers from some rowdies. But there's little doubt this will remain the loudest and wildest hole of golf in the world.
"We'll have lots of security to grab people if they mess with a golfer before they hit," Perkinson says. "But once the ball is in flight, it will probably still be pretty loud."
Perkinson continues the tour. He drives up a towering berm from which more than 5,000 fans can watch the 7th and 12th tee and the 6th, 11th and 12th greens at the same time, sight lines unheard of on traditional courses. The TPC was built specifically to accommodate huge crowds.
From there, he swoops down a hill and stops to speak to the course's superintendent, Chuck Green, who is surveying the rough along the 7th fairway.
"Are you making it super tough?" Perkinson asks.
"Oh, yeah," Green says.
The TPC crew is thickening up the rough and letting it grow to between four and five inches tall -- more like the maddening thickets of the U.S. Open. In the past few years, the TPC crew has thinned fairways, made the greens harder and faster and the pin positions tougher. The Phoenix Open had gained a reputation for ridiculously low scores. For a greenskeeper, that's like having your daughter called easy.
But as the course toughens, as greens become less conducive to sexy back spins and rough more menacing to long drives, fans see fewer birdies and ESPN highlight-worthy shots. Some Open observers say that has turned a highlight-hungry audience into a bunch of unsatisfied customers.
Perkinson continues on, up past the clubhouse, out underneath Hayden Road and up to where the Bird's Nest used to sit. As he drives, his cell phone rings. His secretary is fielding calls from celebrities wanting to play in the tournament's pro-am.
"Well, we just gave one to Glen Campbell," Perkinson says into his cell phone. "And we haven't heard back from Barkley or Matt Damon. And we've got the Vince and Amy question out there.
"Look, I love Jeff Hornacek," he says. "Everybody does. But we're kind of jammed up right now with outstanding commitments. We'll talk about this later."
Most major tournaments have professional tournament directors. The Phoenix Open has a different Thunderbird directing each year. The directors have to have worked on the tournament before -- Perkinson has volunteered for seven years -- and have to be able to blow off work. Perkinson, for instance, owns his own real estate development company.
"I'd be fired in a second if I didn't own my own company," he says.
Perkinson says having a volunteer director keeps some of the pro golf politics out of the Phoenix tournament. Others say it's one of the reasons the Open is a rogue event.
Whatever, it's a strange, heady time for Perkinson and others who have taken the job.
"It's overwhelming because it's unlike anything you've ever done before and it's an incredible amount of work and you've got to tell so many people 'no,'" he says. "But mostly it's just this incredible rush. You're putting together this incredible event. You don't sleep. But you don't need sleep because it's so intense."
Jim Carter has a reputation for being one of the nicest guys on the PGA tour. He was also known as one of dozens of talented golfers who, for whatever reason, couldn't win a PGA tournament.
That changed last year when Carter won the Tucson Open, which earned him $520,000. It was his first big win since he captured the NCAA title for ASU in 1983.
"Oh, man, it just totally made me bust out with pride," he says with gee-whiz exuberance. "And after something like that, you pick up some confidence and feel more a part of things. It was great.
"Now I want to do it again at the Phoenix Open."
A Mesa native, Carter has watched the explosion of golf in the Valley since the 1970s. Particularly, he has watched the explosion of public golf and resort golf.
"There are so many good courses now that most anybody can play if it's not the height of the tourist season," he says. "If you're willing to sweat a little, you can get some incredible golf pretty cheap."
That high percentage of resort and public courses, as well as the affordable golf communities on the periphery of the Valley, have created a golf community unlike most others around the country. It's huge, it's on the cheap side of middle class and, so, it is straddled less with the cultural elitism of the country club.
In late January, too, the city is flooded with golfers on long weekend golf vacations to the Valley. The Phoenix Open is a key part of those trips.
Carter played his first Phoenix Open at the Phoenix Country Club in 1986 as an amateur. The next year, he played his first Phoenix Open as a pro at the TPC. He has played it 12 times in all, and every year, the crowd has gotten bigger and a little rowdier.
"It's gotten to be this thing that's unlike anything else in golf," he says. "It's this incredible party atmosphere around you. And to tell you the truth, people on the tour aren't used to people having that much fun.
"I'd say 85 percent of the players love it. The rest think it's a little over the top."
Mark Calcavecchia agrees.
"I tend to roll with the punches, so I get a kick out of the crowd," he says. "But there are a few guys who can get a little uptight. If they're having a bad day, they can get pretty annoyed."
More than any stop on the tour, the Phoenix Open draws people who know very little about the game.
"You're working with such fine degrees. It's more like surgery," Carter says. "It's like if you had drunk guys whooping and hollering at the heart surgeon and waving balloons in front of the heart monitor. Some people just don't understand how easily a golf swing can get screwed up.
"The killer hole is 16. You walk up there and you've got this giant crowd and you know they'll boo you if you miss the green. It's a little stressful for some guys. I just try so hard to get in this zone where I can roll with the punches, have fun with it, because that's how the people intend it. But some guys have trouble with it, especially if they're having a bad day. You just can't take anything that goes on at the Phoenix Open personally."
For Carter and other Valley pros, who often spend 30 weeks or more of the year on the road, the Open gives them an opportunity to sleep in their own beds. But because of the time of year and the reputation of the event, golfers also get an influx of family and friends who come to visit. The Carter household has "gotten pretty crazy" in years past. But family and friends have learned to give him some peace. He has to work, after all.
"The bottom line, though, is that it's a total blast of a time," he says. "For me, with that crowd, with family and friends around in my hometown, it would be a dream come true to win the thing. Heck, yell more. Bring down the house."
The phone rings as Bob Goldwater is reminiscing in his den.
"Hey, I saw the little bit in the paper about your friend Sandra O'Connor," Goldwater says. "Said she had a hole in one. That must have been something to see."
A few minutes after hanging up, Goldwater still is in a political mood. He says he loves golf mostly because of the camaraderie. But he also loves golf, he says, because "you're regulating yourself. It's based on your honor to play fairly. I like that."
He watches his guest with a playful grin to see if the political metaphor landed.
Okay. Golf is the official sport of Goldwater conservatism. So what about the cheats?
"In my experience, the vast majority of golfers are very honorable people," he says.
Besides impeding business, bureaucrats and their regulations also get in the way of good fun. In its early years, the golf tournament itself was a much more casual, cavalier event. Thunderbird pranks, many instigated by Goldwater, were common on the course. All the golfers came to Goldwater's parties. And most didn't mind playing with a little hangover.
"It was wonderful," Goldwater says. "You'd have Bing Crosby, Phil Harris there. Hoagy Carmichael would sing songs and play the piano. Ken Venturi played the drums. Lionel Heber played trumpet. And all the players were there and they were all just real relaxed and friendly and fun. They were just ordinary people back then.
"The culture was just much different. The only two people who didn't drink were Horton Smith and some other fellow from California. But they've got more to play for now. And you absolutely can't win on today's tour with any shade of a hangover. You take a guy like Ben Hogan. Ben Hogan worked hard. But you take a guy like Tiger Woods. He works even harder. And that just makes everybody else work that much harder."
Most of the tour players in the 1930s and '40s had come to the game through the caddyshacks of America's country clubs. There wasn't enough money in professional golf for anybody who had a college degree. At the time, too, there was no separation between tour and home professionals.
By the 1950s, though, tour professionals were organizing and soon increasingly took control of how tournaments were run. And sometimes, the professionals were a bit at odds with the Thunderbirds and their fun-loving tournament.
"Have you ever heard about the years we put the speaker in the cup in the 18th green?" Goldwater asks, his sly grin turning impish. "We put a loudspeaker in the bottom of the cup and ran the wire under a sand trap over to a wooden platform where Barry and Willie Low were standing. When a golfer was getting ready to putt, he'd start talking into the microphone. So you'd have Jimmy Demaret there ready to putt on 18 and Willie would say, 'Hey, Jimmy, your wife is waiting for you. Hurry up.' And the poor guy would stare at the cup thinking he was going crazy. The crowd had a lot of fun with it.
"Well, we did that for two years before the PGA tour guys stopped us. They finally just said it probably wasn't such a good thing to do."
Over the decades, fewer and fewer of the tour pros would show up at Goldwater's party. At the same time, the Bird's Nest and the tournament continued to expand.
By the 1980s, Goldwater says, he no longer recognized his old tournament or his old party tent. Like the city that hosted the event, what had been a group of hundreds he knew became thousands he didn't know. The small cocktail party had turned into a giant kegger. Goldwater still stops by the modern Bird's Nest. It doesn't make complete sense to him, he says, but he still enjoys the spirit of the place.
"It's a little crowded and racy for a 90-year-old guy," he says. "But it's neat to see so many people having a good time. The spirit of the thing is basically the same as it was in the '40s. It's just a thousand times bigger."
Larsh Kellogg has been labeled a rowdy since youth, primarily because he looks exactly like Kelly from The Bad News Bears. Growing up, he would occasionally get accused of having torn up a nearby golf course with his four-wheeler. It wasn't him, he says, because he has too much respect for golf.
"Look, I might have broken a club or driven a golf cart into a bunker or something when I was younger," he says. "But I didn't do the four-wheeler thing. I swear. And I'm totally Mr. Nice Golf now."
So, at 27, he's not really one of the new Phoenix golf hooligans. He doesn't yell during a backswing. He doesn't throw things. He doesn't root against people unless somebody is challenging an ASU grad such as Phil Mickelson or Jim Carter. When he does get back from Las Vegas for the tournament, he just has a few beers with old friends and enjoys the good golf.
Kellogg, though, was part of the crowd that is often blamed for much of the Phoenix Open's more intolerable rowdiness -- the students of ASU, particularly the Greeks.
"There's a ton of people from ASU who just go out for the party," he says. "You know, if the girls were going, the guys were going. A lot of them didn't know jack about golf. Some would get pretty drunk and pretty stupid."
Kellogg and other recent ASU alums say the Open became a major ASU party event back in the early 1990s when Phil Mickelson was emerging as a big star. But several other ASU grads or Valley-based golfers have incited ASU partisanship over the years. Carter has a crew, for example, as does Calcavecchia.
The ASU students have helped foster a new golf etiquette, one that resembles the riotous partisanship of basketball and football games.
Indeed, Kellogg and others say, students prime and party around the Phoenix Open as if it were an ASU football game.
"Same thing," he says. "You'd prime for the event and there would be rage-er parties after it. For alums, it's like homecoming weekend. It's the time to come back and have some fun with friends."
Brothers Jeff and Doug McKeown fly down from Nebraska to watch Calcavecchia, their cousin. Some years, the tournament weekend has served as a reunion for the family.
For the McKeowns, the trip feels like Spring Break.
"You've been inside all winter and all of a sudden you're outside and it's sunny and 70 degrees," Jeff says. "Yeah, it's a shock to your brain. You just feel wonderful."
The McKeowns are golfers. They know and respect the etiquette. But that doesn't mean the weekend isn't an all-out party. The partyers in the extended Calcavecchia family have a tournament tradition: Each time Mark makes a birdie, members of the Calc Crew have to drink a beer before Mark tees off on the next hole.
Calcavecchia has a history of stringing together birdies on the back nine at the TPC, where he has won the Phoenix Open twice, in 1989 and 1992.
"It can get pretty painful," Doug McKeown says.
"It's good when I can hurt them," Calcavecchia says.
If fans aren't on the golf course, they're at the Bird's Nest or at one of the parties that forms outside the tent for those who can't get in. By midafternoon, the Open crowd changes from middle-class, more middle-aged golf fans with their children to women with high heels and guys reeking of cologne.
It used to be nearly impossible to move inside the old Bird's Nest, which was holding 3,500 people in its final years at the Open. Partygoers tended to grab a beer and park in their own one-foot-by-one-foot space.
Calcavecchia used to go over to the Bird's Nest when he was younger. He says he hasn't been there in five years. And he's not sure how many golfers will go the extra distance to the new Bird's Nest.
"But the truth is, the way the game is now, you can't stay out until 1 a.m. and drink 10 beers and expect to have any chance the next day. With the competition and the money now, you've just got to keep your nose to the grindstone. It takes some of the fun out of it. But that's the way it is if you want to be competitive."
Professor Mike Clark studies bad sports behavior at Michigan State University. International soccer long ago went to hell, he says. Football and basketball are in the advanced stages of decline.
Golf is just starting on its way downhill, in part, he says, because of the Phoenix Open. But there are numerous other factors.
Tiger Woods' celebrity has brought millions of nontraditional golf fans to the game, he says, people who are still learning the etiquette of the game. Basketball and football audiences have created an atmosphere of garish intimidation, that "not in our house" partisanship. Television highlights shows have trained viewers only to find pleasure in dunks, bombs, big drives, big backspins and holes in one.
American culture is more in-your-face. Golf has begun selling itself as a more exciting sport. Golf tournaments are becoming the size of pro football games.
Then, he says, these trends in American culture collide with the city of Phoenix in January at this historically crazed event.
"You've got this transient population, you've got all these people who are new to the area and all these college guys and golf nuts and they all come together on a sunny day and consume massive quantities of beer on this gigantic golf course," Clark says. "What do you expect will happen?"
But the Phoenix Open, he and others say, is still an aberration. And it's nothing compared to some other sports events.
"I don't see people surrounding the 16th green waving those foam stick thingies like in basketball," Clark says. "I don't see Tiger Woods diving into the crowd after a putt like the Packers."
For the most part, the perception of most everyone who observes or plays or organizes the Phoenix Open is that the lack of decorum probably won't get any worse. The most serious problems, most say, are the occasional drunk assholes who take issue with an individual player. Perkinson says tournament security will be beefed up and those who "get out of line" will get tossed out.
The problem, especially with the Phoenix Open, is figuring out what is "out of line." In some ways, it's like a Supreme Court justice trying to define pornography.
"It's the guy who is showing a player or other fans disrespect," Perkinson says. "We don't want it at our tournament and we don't have to have it at our tournament. If somebody is being a nuisance, that's it. They'll have to leave."
Then Perkinson, as host of the most hospitable tournament in the world, quickly backs away from his bad cop bravado. This tournament is about fun and fellowship, the same as always, he says. He challenges you to find 120,000 people in one place on Earth having this much fun with this much civility. This isn't a black mark on the reputation of Phoenix or golf, he says. It's a testament to everything great about the game and the city.
"While we'll work and work and keep working to clean up the few problems, we never want to do anything that takes away from what is so special about this thing," Perkinson says. "This is a unique event. And it's uniquely Phoenix. We want to keep it that way."
Contact the author at his online address: firstname.lastname@example.org
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- Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich Seeks Removal of AZCC Chair Susan Bitter Smith
Thu., Dec. 10, 6:25pm
Fri., Dec. 11, 7:00pm
Fri., Dec. 11, 7:30pm
Fri., Dec. 11, 7:30pm
- Broken-Heart Syndrome Genes Discovered by Phoenix Researchers
- Arizona State Fair Goat GusGus Kids Around in Video After Traumatic Kidnapping