Ya Gotta Be There


Whether you love it, loathe it or couldn’t care less about it, the TPC Scottsdale’s 16th is unique as golf holes go. Its evolution from harmless par-3 to the 'Only Place to Be' symbolizes the steady growth of the Phoenix-area PGA Tour stop over the years. Socially, Saturday at Sixteen is a big deal to locals. Visually, it is a sight to behold.

Welcome to “Ya Gotta Be There,” my inaugural collection of golf stuff to which television doesn’t do justice -- things you have to see in person to truly appreciate. In doing its best to capture the flavor of Scottsdale’s 16th this weekend, CBS will focus on the yahoo factor, paying homage to Billy Budweiser and the notion that professional golf can host a party during live action.

Optically, however, neither TV nor the printed word can adequately simulate the experience of standing on a tee surrounded by 20,000 people at full holler. It reminds me of that scene in “Tommy” when Roger Daltrey, who plays the deaf, dumb and blind kid, is playing pinball before a packed house, which is chanting and carrying on while Elton John tears into his remake of “Pinball Wizard.”

Sorry for the lame comparison. As I was saying, ya gotta be there.

Augusta National’s 18th hole. The exclamation point to one of the finest courses on earth, the game’s ultimate competitive stage is also the toughest ticket in any town, which is too bad if you’re a serious golfer without connections. The emergence of high-def TVs gives viewers a much better idea of the steep uphill climb to the 18th green, but it’s the visual from the tee that will blow you away. Since the markers were moved back 60 yards in 2002, the final drive has become one of the most daunting in the game. The gap between the converging tree lines, maybe 100 yards ahead, looks no larger than a keyhole. The big boys fly their ball over the Georgia pines, but the older fellas don’t have the clubhead speed – and sometimes have to play their second shots from the bottom of the hill.

No. 16 at TPC Scottsdale
No. 16 at TPC Scottsdale has become fully-enclosed by corporate hospitality tents and stands. (Getty)

The clubhouse at TPC Sawgrass. The Tour’s shrine to excess, perhaps deservedly so, this four-year-old structure is large enough to serve as a southern branch of the Smithsonian. Dozens of lavishly appointed rooms, opulence galore … they should hand you a map when you walk through the front door. The old clubhouse was like a closet compared with this version. Overstated? Yes, but it’s a handsome building that was marvelously conceived. Chateau le Finchem is large, but clearly, no detail in its construction was considered too small.

The human chaos around Tiger Woods. I’ve seen some crazy stuff over the years, most of it unpleasant, when Sir Eldrick makes any walk through spectators at a tournament site. Kids getting run over by grown men, the screeching and pushing, overzealous security – if you’ve ever wondered why Woods can appear so anti-social amid the adulation, feel free to come to an event and witness the pandemonium for yourself. Even lightly attended events can produce some unruly scenes. Fame can be an ugly drug, and not just to the guy who lives with it.

Any celebration by a victorious Ryder Cup team. To see Seve Ballesteros and Nick Faldo locked in a bear hug, both icons sobbing as the Euros clinched at Oak Hill in 1995, is a mental snapshot you never forget. They’re all joyous occasions, obviously, and the combination of thin skin and competitive anxiety tells us a couple have gone over the top, but seeing the game’s best players in emotional overdrive – and trying to read a notebook full of champagne-smeared ink – is one of the true perks of the profession. My personal fave? The Americans spraying bubbly off the balcony at Valhalla in 2008.

Ernie Els. Standing next to him and marveling at the sheer size of the man is basically worth the trip. Some guys are just bigger than they’re listed, and I don’t mean in the midsection. Cal Ripken Jr., Tom Brady and the Big Easy immediately come to mind. Els was put together on a day when the assembly line was at its very best. To see him swing a golf club so fluidly only amplifies the notion that he is an imposing physical specimen.

A Phil Mickelson autograph procession. If Woods is the Sultan of Standoffish, Philly Mick is the Mayor of Magnetism. At TPC Boston a couple of years back, I interviewed him while he signed for the masses, a session that showcased his marvelous people skills while he fired harpoons at the Tour’s FedEx Cup postseason format. Such a fascinating dichotomy: happy Phil, mad Phil. He would skip the playoff gathering in Chicago the following week to express his displeasure, but it’s not Joe Sixpack who annoys him. Tiger is more famous, but Mickelson is more popular.

The practice range at noon Sunday. Every paying customer should spend at least 15 minutes in the bleachers before the leaders tee off in the final round. Seeing 20 or 30 golf balls behave at the same time is kind of cool to watch, and who knows? If you’re not careful, you might actually learn something by watching the best players in the world.