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Atmosphere of TPC Scottsdale's 16th hole is tough to duplicate

Waste Management Phoenix Open 16th hole
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Fifteen thousand fans can’t be wrong.

That’s how many raucous, sometimes rude and often rum-addled fans crowded in around TPC Scottsdale’s 16th hole each day last week, turning what would otherwise be a non-descript 162 yards of desert golf into the PGA Tour’s version of Camden Indoor Stadium.

While some scoff at the departure from decorum, others have started to call for mini-Bird’s Nests across the Tour landscape. Both schools of thought seem to miss the point.

The 16th hole is an unruly original born from the unique convergence of space and time that defies tradition and duplication, not that tournament directors haven’t tried. The problem, as many have discovered, is that something as unique as the Bird’s Nest must grow organically.

“I think everybody that sees that, depending on what (space) they have, there has always been a lot of discussion about that,” said Steve Timms, the Shell Houston Open’s tournament director. “I don’t know if there’s any way you could do that. The space they have, the college kids coming out and supporting. Not sure it can be duplicated.”

By way of example Timms points out that located behind the 16th tee is a merchandise tent that sells items that are specifically branded to that hole. “That is pretty special,” he laughs.

That room to grow has seen the 16th hole become golf’s only totally enclosed stadium with seating for 15,000, 177 skyboxes, two video boards, two scoreboards and eight cameras, including the overhead shot from the MetLife blimp.

That the WMPO’s corporate partners embrace the party also helps, but it is the rabid gallery that makes the 16th hole special, or soul-robbing depending on one’s point of view and whether they hit the green in regulation. It’s also why those who suggest a cut-and-paste mentality across the Tour lineup may be over simplifying things.

Build it and they will come, right? But if that was the case, why haven’t Fenway Parks and Wrigley Fields sprung up across America?

Although modern ballparks have tried to replicate the feel of these timeless classic, the originals still stand above the field. So it is with Scottsdale’s 16th hole, while TPC Sawgrass moved large amounts of earth and water on the Stadium Course’s 17th hole to manufacture buzz,  it is – with apologies to Pete Dye – a far less frenzied version of the original.

And maybe that’s not a bad thing.

As much as the golf world relished the raucous atmosphere last week, a steady diet of “boos” and backhanded slights wouldn’t sit well with the players or Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., which has been known to scold caddies for wearing shoes they deem too bright.

“I want it this week only. It’s the coolest hole on the PGA Tour every year,” said Kip Henley, who caddies for Brian Gay and became a YouTube sensation on Saturday when he raced his brother (Robert Garrigus’ caddie Brent Henley) to the 16th green during play. “But I’m only glad it happens one time a year.”

No one wants to see James Hahn celebrate a birdie “Gangnam Style” at Augusta National’s hallowed 12th hole. Nor would the rank-and-file savor a similar atmosphere around, say, Bay Hill’s 17th hole – a 221-yard par 3 ringed by water, sand and tension regardless of where one sits on the leaderboard.

It’s a time and place deal.

Consider that TPC Scottsdale’s 16th ranked 150th out of 198 par 3s on Tour last year in difficulty with a 2.959 scoring average (it played even easier this year with a 2.893 average) and yielded just four double bogeys and not a single “other” last week.

It is the perfect place for egos, not scorecards, to take a haymaker.

That’s not to say Scottsdale’s 16th is the only vestige of rowdy behavior on Tour. This year’s caddie races were a variation on a theme that began more than a decade ago at Colonial Country Club in Texas.

In 2000, loopers began the tradition of sprinting to the green on Colonial’s 13th and in recent years the HP Byron Nelson Championship (No. 17) and Shell Houston Open (No. 16) have started caddie races of their own for the public’s viewing, and betting, pleasure.

The essence of Scottsdale’s 16th, however, remains unduplicated.

“Even back in the mid-1990s that hole was so active. Short hole, compact environment, it’s such a unique situation out there.” Timms said before pausing. “I wouldn’t even know where to park that many people.”

The 16th is the best atmosphere in golf (non-major and Ryder Cup category), 15,000 fans couldn’t be wrong about that, but if every week were special . . .