The number 179,022 will always be etched in my mind. That’s how many people came out to watch the Waste Management Phoenix Open on Saturday this year. On Saturday, one day alone. It was a record for the tournament and in the history of golf as far as anyone knows.
If you explore the Guinness World Record website, there are 82 results for "golf" but no category for the "most people to watch a single-day golf event in person." There are records for the "largest one-day golf tournament," the "largest golf facility,"and the "most people playing golf walking on a single golf course in 24 hours." But none for the largest gallery ever to watch golf in person.
Of course, there is a strong community charity consciousness in the Phoenix-Scottsdale metropolis. The Thunderbirds, hosts of the WMPO, are a charitable organization that has been around since 1937. There is a cadre of sales and marketing professionals associated with the TPC Scottsdale golf course, the Waste Management Phoenix Open golf tournament and the PGA TOUR. The tournament predates even The Masters with its roots in the 1932 Arizona Open and has been contested 74 times since then. Over $80 million has been donated to Arizona charities with $5.5 million coming in 2012 alone.
These folks know what they are doing, leveraging a lot of history and tradition. But still, 179,022 golf spectators on one golf course on one day! More than America’s other top sports–baseball, basketball and football. More than a record 115,300 at the Dodgers-Red Sox game in L.A. in 2008, more than a record 108,713 at the NBA All-Star game in Dallas in 2010 and certainly more than can fit in any football stadium in America.
There was never a doubt watching Phil Mickelson open with a 60 this year, then adding rounds of 65-64-67 to win by four strokes for a record-tying third time (with Mark Calcavecchia, Gene Littler and Arnold Palmer). Thursday’s attendance was 79,532, Friday’s at 121,901 with Saturday the peak at 179,022—a total of 525,821 for the week! Amazing!
Other than the golf, the most amazing sight of the week was to stand on a hillside off to the right of the 18th green and see the people flood in beneath an overpass coming from the main entrance. Seas of people, imagine the sidewalks of Manhattan at lunch hour and the entire width of 5th Avenue as well. Non-stop for as long as you wanted to watch.
Where do these people go on an 18-hole golf course that has ample room. It's certainly no Merion, but nonetheless there are 179,022 people! The hospitality areas surrounding the 17th and 18th holes are legendary and swallow up a big chunk of the masses. Then there is the stadium in golf encompassing the par-three 16th hole. Nearly 20,000 right there.
Coming back to play the Stadium Course at TPC Scottsdale a few weeks after the tournament on the way to the WGC Accenture Match Play, the wintery wonderland we now know as Dove Mountain, was a real treat. Gone were the 179,022 Saturday patrons yet the majority of the Stadium on the 17th remained.
TPC Scottsdale is an awesome golf course to play in its own right. A Tom Weiskopf & Jay Morrish design, this golf course is fun to play. While it looks hard but plays easily, don’t expect to go to a record low 29-under par like Phil did this year or Mark Calcavecchia did in 2001. If you knew what I knew and an opportunity to play TPC Scottsdale comes along, you would do what I did. I love Weiskopf’s thinking and his golf design talents! Remember, he did win a British Open though his four runner-up finishes at the Masters and comments on Jack Nicklaus do come to mind.
My favorite hole is the short par-four 17th which is 332 yards from the tips and only 254 yards from the whites. I hope you are “playing it forward” like I am these days and having a ton of fun on the golf course. Like Phil, I hit it way left off the tee, so far left it stayed dry. Unlike Phil, I pitched it up onto the green and three-putted for bogey. I didn’t shoot 60, in fact I didn’t even shoot one-under par on any hole. I guess I was too excited from my experience at the tournament. For me, the golf course looked hard and played hard on that day.
It was still cool to tee it up on the 16th with most of the Stadium still surrounding the hole. I thought I could imagine what it would be like during the tournament, but honestly I can’t say that I could. It did lead to one charity fund-raising idea. On Saturday, let the biggest charity donors tee it up and hit tee shots on the 17th Stadium hole when time allows between the professionals. There is trouble on the water-logged par-five 15th and sometimes there is a gap in play. What a thrill, what a rush it would be. Sort of a modern day coliseum swing and make contact or be consumed by the thirsty crowd. Even if they can get the club back I doubt anyone will hit it on or even close to the green. TPC and the PGA TOUR new ultimate Stadium Golf experience all for charity!
There were only 22 people, including Bobby Jones, who saw Gene Sarazen’s double eagle on the par-five 15th in the 1935 Masters. Quite a few more saw Tiger Woods’ ace on the 16th at TPC Scottsdale in 1997. About 20,000 of the 179,022 present saw James Hahn double-bogey the 16th on Saturday. But 20,000 saw him birdie it on Sunday and then dance his way off the green "Gangnam Style." What excitement at TPC Scottsdale!
I have to say I am a big proponent of TPC Sawgrass as the "Crown Jewel" TPC Network of 30 prestigious courses. I live nearby, it is the ‘Home of THE PLAYERS Championship and we all know there are four majors but only one PLAYERS. Tiger Woods style this year. But I have to say that maybe TPC Scottsdale, "Home of the Largest Galleries in Golf" is the "Western Crown Jewel" of the TPC Network.
Play it if you can, soon!
By the way, as far as Guinness records go… the largest one day golf tournament consisted of 1,562 participants at the Mission Hills Golf Club in Shenzhen, China, on June 25th, 2010, which is also the largest golf facility with twelve 18-hole courses. The greatest number of walking golfers to complete a full round on the same course within 24 hours is 632 and was achieved by The First Tee of Ireland, at Faithlegg Golf Club in Waterford, Ireland in June 2009.
But the number 179,022 will stick in my mind until at least next year. Who knows, maybe 200,000 plus at the 2014 Waste Management Phoenix Open?