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The most exciting hole on the PGA Tour isn't the best, the toughest or even the prettiest. It's the loudest. Hearing is believing, and the 16th hole at the Tournament Players Club at Scottsdale is an earful. For 51 weeks a year, the 16th is like a lot of other shortish, nondescript par-3s, but when the Phoenix Open thunders through, it is transformed into Delta House. Suddenly surrounded by 20,000 raucous fans, a startling number of empty beer cans and a high-intensity wall of sound every time anything happens—all a player has to do is step on the tee to set off the crowd—the 16th becomes a major disturbance of the peace.
"Just walking up, it's as loud as if you made an eagle at Augusta," said Nick Price after he was given a rousing ovation upon arriving at 16 during the third round. "That's the loudest noise I've ever heard on a golf course." Not so fast, Nick. Less than an hour later he was signing autographs near the clubhouse when the Eruption occurred. That's when Tiger Woods, golf's loudest player, made a hole in one at golf's loudest hole. The Eruption was a stunning response to the pleading mantra intoned by the fans milliseconds after each player launched his tee shot: "Get in the ho-oooole!" they yelled. Tiger's ball did, and the moment instantly became another date with destiny for the kid, who nearly turned into a helicopter and took off with all his arm whirling and fist pumping, a reaction that lifted the noise to even greater decibels. The volume remained stuck on high while Woods fixed his mark, picked his ball out of the cup and whipped it into the crowd.
The 16th is where golf and a tailgate party collide. The 162-yard hole, which is guarded by several sinister bunkers, has a large spectator mound behind the tee, is flanked by corporate skyboxes and has bleachers and more mounds near the green. When the fans pour in on the weekend, the hole is surrounded by bodies. There they sit, drinking and cheering. And gambling. The fans wager on everything and anything: Who's going to hit it closest? Who's going to miss the green? Who's going to tip his visor? The whooping starts when the players reach the tee and barely stops while they hit their shots. As Tom Lehman was getting ready to address his ball last Saturday, shouts of "Tom-mee!" came from the crowd. But to back off the shot is to invite more catcalls, so Lehman went ahead and hit, then grinned in disbelief during the cascade of sound that followed.
"It all started with John Daly and now Tiger Woods," says Brandel Chamblee. "Golf is so popular, it's bringing out people who normally watch hockey or football or basketball. When you hit a good shot, they go berserk—none of that polite 'Good shot.' It's kind of an antigolf, against-the-establishment hole. Their attitude is, We're here to get drunk and have a good time, and you guys are the show."
Not all the players like that attitude. "It's a Happy Gilmore mentality," says Dan Forsman. "Sometimes they affect the players, and that's not fair."
Better get used to it. "This is where golf tournaments are headed," says David Ogrin. "To be successful, they need to be a social event. Sixteen is boisterous and obnoxious, and the comments you hear there are usually moronic, but that doesn't negate that it's fun to play in front of that many people."
There is no close second in the loudest hole category. The 17th at Greensboro once held the distinction, but the fans there went over the line, yelling during the players' backswings and rooting against shots, so the sale of alcohol was eliminated in the area. The Tour is closely monitoring the goings-on in Scottsdale. "We've tried to tone it down," says Mark Russell, a Tour official. "There are a lot of people having fun, and as long as they aren't disturbing the players, we want them to have fun."
There were signs around the hole last week that warned: "[Tournament officials] reserve the right to eject any person who engages in disruptive behavior interfering with golfers and/or patrons." But they didn't spoil the party. When Scott Gump reached 16, there were chants of "For-rest! For-rest!" When Scott McCarron arrived, fans yelled, "Hey, MaCarena!" So McCarron obliged, did a few steps and drew even louder cheers.
For sheer volume, however, the reaction to Woods's ace is the standard by which all roars will be measured. "We don't need to create hysteria out there," Forsman said. Then he smiled and added, "But if I was a fan, that's where I'd go."
Who wouldn't? The traditionalists might not like it, but the 16th's a scream.