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Nine hours at the most unhinged hole in golf

Zak Jason   

Nine hours at the most unhinged hole in golf

The sunburned man with an FTX hat and a Topo Chico strawberry guava hard seltzer in each hand was disappointed. “He’s not naked,” he said to no one in particular, with open disgust. “No hog.”

Before him and 20,000 others in the stadium, a shirtless man had jumped from the stands and was sprinting toward the putting green. He front-flipped into a bunker and landed flat on his back, making a sand angel as the crowd roared. Then he darted between police and cacti, swinging his arms along the way to cajole the crowd to cheer more.

His display pleased some. But this was Saturday at the 16th hole of Phoenix’s Waste Management Open, also known as the loudest day at the Loudest Hole in Golf, also known as the Greatest Show on Grass. At 1:28 pm, the stadium’s more sober patrons were already about seven drinks deep. They or their employers had paid good money — in some cases down-payment-on-a-house money — to see something depraved. A streaker who was still wearing pants wasn’t going to cut it.

“Booooo!” a man in the deck above me yelled. “Take it all off!”

“Show your dick! Show your dick!” chanted a trio of gentlemen in their thirties — Vuori pullover, black Patagonia jacket, and a white Oxford — whose law firm had purchased seats in the box next to me.

But there’d be no hog to see. The streaker was apprehended and arrested, prompting rowdy jeers; the crowd was outraged to see justice served.

The letdown was short-lived. A few minutes later, a DJ set up shop on a tee box and started playing Creed’s “Take Me Higher” as a montage of Scott Stapp sauntering, F/A-18s taking off in “Top Gun: Maverick,” and Iron Man being awesome played on the Jumbotrons. It had the distinct tone of a hype video a dad with a rudimentary proficiency in Final Cut would make for his 9-year-old son’s birthday, where the party’s theme was “Rad” — and it was exactly what the grown men of the stadium wanted and needed. They watched, enrapt, while they sipped Coors Lights and High Noons and stacked a beer snake toward heaven.

“Scott Stapp, man,” said a voice behind me, wistfully. “We’re so back.”

In theory, this was a professional golf tournament, one of the oldest on the PGA Tour. There was said to be a $9 million purse, and the winner would take home $1.5 million. Occasionally, something would float in from the periphery that suggested the golf could be real: There was a leaderboard, an NBC broadcast of the tournament playing behind every bar, and a group of hedge fund and private equity guys who were taking dozens of prop bets and writing them on a white board they seemed to have brought from the office. There were even flesh and blood golfers who passed by every few minutes, the crowd booing whenever their shot missed the green, and groveling, screeching, barking, grunting, and yipping whenever it inched toward the hole. How they needed to see a ball go into that hole.

But in the haze of Topo Chico strawberry guavas, Miller Lites and vodka sodas, the weed, the rain and the mud, the hooting, howling, and the grabassing, no one could be sure they were at a professional sports event. Every other data point suggested that, in reality, they had slipped into exactly where they wanted to be: a black hole of feral manhood.

Iwas there as an inevitable result of being in all-male group chat, its own black hole of feral manhood. A Phoenix native in our group of college friends had scored box seats at a discount. For months, the group had been goading one another about how unhinged our pilgrimage would become, sharing clips of obscene spectacles on 16 from years past, along with stories of unhinged behavior in the news cycle — the Alabama man who jumped naked in the Bass Pro Shop aquarium, a resurfaced photo of George Bush drinking Michelob with mustachioed men — and captioning each “us on 16.” We even proposed an official cocktail for the trip, an amalgam of all the viral drinks of the past year: 1 part pumpkin-spiced spiked Dunkin, 1 part spiked Mountain Dew Baja Blast, 1 part Magical Penis Wine, shaken, and filled with Panera’s Charged Lemonade.

Most of us are married, with young children, and nearly old enough to run for president. None of us follow golf closely. But the tournament is infamous for a reason, its reputation for rowdiness seemingly multiplying the rowdiness each passing year, and its slurring siren song was too tempting to pass up.

I could hear the vibes as soon as I landed in Phoenix. In the 10 minutes I waited for my friend to pick me up, the entire pick-up area echoed with daps, vigorous back pats, and chants of “the boys!” as carloads full of the aforementioned boys were reunited for the weekend.

The following morning, upon picking us up at 8am, our Lyft driver said, “Welcome to the chaos, brothers.” He’d been shepherding people to and from the tournament for more than a decade, and he had one piece of unsolicited advice: “Stay away from the assholes at BlackRock in the box seats, and you’ll be alright.”

At the entrance, the tournament offered its lone nod to decorum: a giant sign across an overpass that reads RESPECT THE FANS. RESPECT THE PLAYERS. RESPECT THE GAME. More than 200,000 would stumble under the sign; a few would abide by it. Several thousand had lined up outside the gate around 3 am to partake in a Running of the Bulls at 5:30, when the coveted generation admission seats on 16 opened.

At 10 am, we scanned into the stadium with our wristbands. Though they repeated the overpass mantra, they were also our gateway to 10 strongly poured alcoholic beverages, like a Livestrong bracelet that doubles as a vape pen. Also, the 10-drink cutoff was a very gentle suggestion. Bartender after bartender told group after group, “If you take care of me, I’ll take care of you.” I watched several men in their 40s and 50s tip hundred-dollar-bills after each round, and their wristbands were never scanned. For many, 10 soon became 20, which became face-planting into a urinal.

With drinks in hand, we left to stroll around the course. Few were watching golf; most were huddled in circles many yards from the 16th hole, drinking and people-watching. Men outnumbered women, conservatively, 7 to 1. Countless bros wore the standard uniform of a golf cap, a quarter-zip pullover (often Barstool), and khakis. Every SEC team was well-represented. There were men in fitted pink suits, Happy Gilmore Bruins jerseys, and American-flag-patterned shorteralls; four men dressed like Thomas Jefferson; a man standing alone in camo hoodie with “Assholes Live Forever” emblazoned on the back; men in MAGA hats and BlackRock hats; men in their forties in jungle animal onesies; and a bachelor party full of men wearing red chef hats that read “Let Him Cook.” The overall tableau was akin to Mardi Gras meets the “ass to ass” scene in “Requiem for a Dream.”

Traipsing through the throngs, I overheard a succession of things that forgotten people from your childhood might say to you in a NyQuil-induced dream. “Jesus Christ, did you see the 17-inch waist on that one? Lord have mercy,” said one man to his boys. “When I met Johnny, he didn’t have a pot to piss in. I was his pot,” said a woman. Mostly, I heard the boys talking about how good it is to be out in the desert with the boys. “Isn’t this the fucking best?” said one. “Dude, how good is this? Blunts and mud,” said another.

Torrential rain from the past two days had turned the course into a 200-acre mudslide. Dozens of men and women were sliding down hills, many of them deliberately and shirtlessly. A few fights were breaking out. Not far from the 11th rough, a young woman was hunched over in a miniskirt in the sand, crying. She was receiving oxygen from an EMT in a golf cart, seated beside a cactus and a puddle of her own vomit.

It seemed like as good a time as any to return to the belly of the beast.

Outside the stadium on 16, the lines for general admission seats were hundreds of people deep. Few had any chance of getting in: Those who were already inside had been drinking nonstop for six hours, and weren’t going to leave unless they were dragged out. Why were so many spending their day on a mission they knew was going to fail? One gentleman voiced his divine wish to his friends: “There’s gonna be one special girl in there who shows her titties. That’s worth the wait.”

Inside our box, golf continued to happen, but if the golfers weren’t teeing off, no one was watching the course. A man in his 50s approached a group of four women in their early 20s from ASU’s law school and said, “Do you girls pay attention to technology?” He spent three minutes explaining his AI startup before they walked away.

At one point, weaving my way through the crowd toward my seat, a man in a ponytail put his face toward my face and touched my glasses. “Hey, Potter,” he said like an after-school special bully, “just use your wand to get through!” I felt both debased and anointed, a perfect 16 experience.

To visit the toilets was to realize fully that no sporting event embodies its name as cosmically as the Waste Management Open. They stood in an unlit room at the end of a long, wet, musty, unlit hal. By 2:00, the plastic urinals — a green, eight-foot-tall structure where four men at a time pee toward each other — were overflowing, urine spilling onto mud-soaked All Birds. Nearly every Porta Potty around the perimeter was filled with cans of hard seltzers. It was incredibly brave of Waste Management to put their logos on those toilets.

By 4 pm, word spread that the patrons had become so unruly tournament organizers closed the entrance gates and stopped serving alcohol across the course. There was a mild panic. The day before, a woman had been hospitalized after falling off a balcony on 16. Players and pundits argued that the notorious “shitshow” had become too much of a shitshow, that the waste could no longer be managed, and everyone’s safety was at risk. But as several rushed to the bar, they quickly realized that only the plebes were screwed. For the elites — those lucky enough to have a box — the drinks were still bottomless. “We don’t give a shit what happens down there,” said one bartender in an après ski outfit. (After the carnage ended, the tournament's executive director promised "a complete operational change," ringing what may well be a death knell for the Open's rowdiest days.)

But for the rest of the day, at least, the tournament continued to put bros before holes. A couple of minutes after 6 pm, a tournament official blew an air horn. The mass had ended. The sunset was immaculate — orange-purple halos hugging billowing violet clouds. The man in the FTX hat who wanted to see hog was missing it. He had been asleep for half an hour, and it looked like he pissed himself.

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