PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – If the Bear Trap’s growl ever gets worse than its bite, some of the game’s top players may stop showing up to play the Honda Classic.
Billy Horschel offered up that warning to PGA Tour and Honda Classic officials last week with heckling becoming a greater issue there.
Horschel was among pros who complained to PGA Tour chief of operations Andy Pazder last week about the fan behavior at the 17th hole, the last of the three Bear Trap holes.
Horschel doesn’t want to see Honda’s 17th become a cousin to the Phoenix Open’s infamous 16th. He says it doesn’t work among the difficult Bear Trap holes and won’t help the Honda Classic keep elite fields.
It’s why Horschel tweeted out his concerns Friday after watching players deal with heckling there.
“I said to myself, this isn’t Scottsdale,” Horschel told GolfChannel.com. “This is ridiculous.”
Sergio Garcia was heckled over a short missed putt on Friday. He was a target there all week.
“Imagine if you’re trying to write an article and somebody’s shouting things that aren’t very nice in your ears?” Garcia told GolfChannel.com in the locker room after the final round. “How would that make you feel?
“The Honda Classic is a great tournament. I love the tournament, and I love the golf course. I think it’s an amazing golf course, but it is what it is. Unfortunately, this happens a lot of weeks now in the United States. You have to deal with it the best way possible.”
Honda Classic executive director Ken Kennerly met with Garcia on Saturday to talk about the trouble he encountered at the 17th hole. He spoke to Horschel on Friday evening after PGA Tour player complaints were first relayed to him.
“I told Ken, this is a great event with a great field on a great golf course,” Horschel said. “The last thing you want is players saying, `Everything is great about this tournament, but that 17th hole is a little out of control.’ You don’t want to be known for that when you are trying to get top players, like Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson and Adam Scott. You don’t want guys like that saying `I don’t want to go there because that hole’s getting to be too much. They’re stepping over the bounds.’”
Kennerly told GolfChannel.com he took Horschel and other player complaints seriously. After Friday’s play, he beefed up police presence at the 17th hole, requesting three more officers be assigned there, increasing the total to eight. He also beefed up private security and added 18 more marshals to the hole.
Kennerly said there were spectators ejected there on the weekend.
“I can’t tell you how many, I don’t have the numbers,” Kennerly said.
Horschel said he was grateful for Kennerly’s response, and he believed it made a difference on the weekend.
Garcia didn’t think beefed-up security made a big difference. He said security won’t solve the problem when a party atmosphere like that is created around a golf hole.
“It doesn’t matter, because you can’t control things if there’s a lot of alcohol involved, even if you put a hundred police officers there,” Garcia said. “I talked to Ken, and I thanked him and told him it’s great they’re trying to do something, but it’s just very difficult when you have people who have probably been there five or six hours drinking. You can’t control that. It’s just too hard.”
The Honda Classic’s 17th hole has grown into a party hole since the event moved to PGA National in 2007. The hole’s nearly enclosed now with bleachers. It also features the Goslings Dark ’N Stormy party pavilion and the RBC Wine Garden.
Kennerly has helped build the Honda Classic into a popular community event. Huge galleries swarmed the grounds all four days this week.
“The PGA Tour told us our Thursday crowds were the biggest they’ve seen on the regular tour outside the Waste Management Phoenix Open,” Kennerly said. “When we took over the Honda Classic, we just couldn’t do what the old Honda Classic did. We’ve made this a fun event, and it’s a reason we’ve been able to grow the event to where it is today. We’re getting huge crowds now.”
Kennerly said there are challenges that come with that, balancing golf with a festive atmosphere.
“We’re in the entertainment business at the end of the day, but we do want fans to be respectful of the players,” he said. “I apologized to Sergio, and I talked to Billy. I’m the host of the event, and I want to make sure our guests are as comfortable as they can be.”
Horschel said it’s difficult getting comfortable at the 17th hole, even when there’s nobody around the hole. It’s a tricky par 3 over water in winter Florida winds. He said that’s the big difference between the party atmosphere the Phoenix Open created and the one the Honda Classic’s creating.
“I think when they built that structure around the 17th tee at the Honda Classic, the fans started thinking this can be like the 16th at TPC Scottsdale,” Horschel said. “Unfortunately, it can’t be like 16 there.
“I think Phoenix is great, and I love it, but the 16th there is a very benign hole. You aren’t going to make worse than bogey. I think we’ve all embraced that, but now you see all these other tournaments trying to copy that. The problem you have to think about is, `Do we have a hole that is comparable?’ Unfortunately, there aren’t many courses that have an easy par 3 coming in like TPC Scottsdale. The 17th here at Honda is a really tough hole. I don’t care if you are playing in the tournament or in a practice round or you are playing here two months from now, that hole puckers you up a little bit.”
The Bear Trap will bite a player trying to win there, Horschel understands that. He just doesn’t want to see growling fans make it an unfair hole.