Meghan MacLaren: “The Phoenix party hole should be embraced, not criticised”

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Ladies European Tour star Meghan MacLaren on why the Phoenix Open’s party hole is benefitting the game.

How often does non-Major (or Major, for that matter) professional golf make it into the mainstream media? For all of us obsessive golf fans, it sometimes seems alien that other people might not be as captivated as us by a silky short-sided lob shot, or a 400-yard Bryson drive, or the ebbs and flows of being in contention on a Sunday afternoon. Very occasionally, though, something crosses the divide from golf world into sports world.

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Sometimes – like Emma Raducanu’s US Open victory – it’s inspiration that cuts through. Sometimes it’s pure entertainment. The scenes at the Waste Management Phoenix Open fit well into the latter category. While a hole-in-one is rare (there had been seven years between aces on 16 at the Phoenix Open), in themselves they are probably not enough to cut through with any lasting effect to the mainstream sports media or fans.

Emma Raducanu's US Open victory transcended the sport.

Having said that, this particular 16th hole, during this particular tournament, is a different animal. Over the last few years, the ‘stadium’ effect has been built up more and more, as well as the tournament reputation, leading to close to 20,000 (mostly very well lubricated) fans surrounding the hole for the 2022 edition.

The celebrations that ensued this year following holes-in-one made by Sam Ryder and Carlos Ortiz led to widely shared clips on social media and reputable news sources around the world.

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The noise was tremendous – in a place already one of the noisiest on tour – and thousands of beer bottles and cans were thrown in jubilation. Apart from the viral and unforgettable video clips they produced, the clearing-up job resulted in a bit of a delay to the other players in the group and those behind. To be perfectly honest, apart from thinking, “That’s a big clean-up operation” – which is quite apt marketing for a Waste Management sponsored event – I didn’t really think much more of it.

But golf being golf and social media being social media, the change from the norm caused controversy. Golf is a game of tradition and good etiquette; where fans can be thrown out for even mildly offensive comments – in stark contrast to sports such as football and rugby, where chants filling stadiums almost always contain swear words and inappropriate messaging. But in those sports, it’s part of the culture. Golf has a very different culture and reputation when it comes to the behaviour of its fans. 

Sam Ryder was one of two men to ace 16 at this year's Phoenix Open.

When it comes to the Phoenix beer shower, I don’t think it has to show that golf is trending in any particular direction. I don’t condone alcohol being thrown all over the field of play, particularly when it’s in bottles/cans and also when that has an affect on the players themselves. It crosses a line that the tournament may need to try and police better. That said, this isn’t something we have seen in any other circumstance – even in the most boisterous Ryder Cups. 

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The vision itself, of fans having a great time and wanting to be a part of a golf event – and how the players embrace that – is something enjoyable, entertaining and a positive for bringing new people into the sport. If someone watches that clip, thinks it looks fun and goes to their first golf tournament because of it, maybe they’ll find a reason to take the sport more seriously – as a fan or as a player.

While I don’t think excessive drinking needs to be encouraged, creating events within tournaments to draw people in can only be a good thing for the sport. I would love to see an event on the women’s tours have an entertainment highlight that makes it an unforgettable experience for fans – one that means it will always be marked on the schedule. But if alcohol is integral, there need to be measures in place. Football only allows alcohol to be bought in the ground in plastic cups, which perhaps would be a start.

Ryder's hole-in-one was greeted by a deluge of beer cans.

Despite this column perhaps doing the opposite of what it’s saying, I don’t think we need to over analyse everything in golf. I don’t think we need to ask whether every single video clip or news article or tournament set-up is growing the game or not. Inappropriate behaviour should never be encouraged, but it also doesn’t have to be indicative of the bigger picture. Golf has enough existential issues to worry about right now without picking apart one of the most unique events on the schedule

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

LET star Meghan MacLaren writes for Today's Golfer.

Meghan MacLaren is a two-time winner on the Ladies European Tour. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram

You can also read her blog at megmaclaren.com

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