Commentary

TPC Scottsdale's 16th: Exception to rule

Originally Published: February 23, 2010
By Jason Sobel | ESPN.com

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- A few years ago, Scott Piercy stepped to the tee at TPC Scottsdale's notoriously rambunctious 16th hole and stiffed his shot to within 10 feet of the cup.

The crowd went wild, but not in the way you might expect. They booed him.

"They have high expectations of us," Piercy said Tuesday while recalling that moment. "I just tipped my cap and waved."

Talk about a tough room.

On most occasions during the PGA Tour season, there are three appropriate responses to golf shots: wild applause for the great ones, polite clapping for the average ones, deafening silence for the poor ones.

The 16th at this week's Waste Management Phoenix Open is not one of these usual occasions.

Professional golf's only hole with true "stadium seating," this Sweet 16 can host up to 20,000 spectators per day, most of whom express themselves via boisterous cheers, resounding boos and cacophonous singsong chants. In any situation, the message comes across loud and clear to competitors: Bring your A-game or prepare for the onslaught.

"It's a nervy thing," 1999 tournament champion Rocco Mediate said. "If you hit a bad shot, they'll boo you, but if you hit a good shot, they won't. They'll go crazy."

"It's a great hole," D.J. Trahan said. "It's a one-of-a-kind experience for us, and we certainly don't see anything like it. It's a bit crazy, but it is fun."

The fans' bark is worse than the hole's bite. At 162 yards with a green surrounded by two bunkers on either side, it's no more than an 8- or 9-iron for most players. Last year, it played almost exactly to par, with an overall scoring average of 3.005 strokes, ranking sixth-easiest on the course.

"It's hard to get a wind sometimes because it's so enclosed, you can't feel it; it kind of swirls around there," Jeff Quinney said. "So it's kind of tough to pull the right club sometimes, but all in all it's just an awesome hole."

Of course, the hole is about more than just golf. With bleacher seats lining each side topped by three tiers of 132 total skyboxes, it serves as the sport's ultimate outdoor cocktail party. There's little question as to why those roars grow noisier as the day grows longer, meaning late tee times can leave for some beer-battered golfers.

There's more to it than simply reacting to golf shots, though. There's an element of creativity that helps set the scene.

"Somehow," said Jonathan Kaye, who won here in 2003, "they know more than everybody. Literally. They know your birthday. They know your kids. They know your dog's name. I don't know how they find out all that stuff, but they do."

It's all in the name of fun -- and there's no hole all season that provides as much entertainment as this one.

Couldn't be better timing for a week of merriment on the PGA Tour, either, considering the controversies off course (the Tiger Woods scandal) and on (the grooves rule) that have stolen headlines from the actual competition so far this season.

"Fortunately up to this year, we've never had controversy; we've never had the problems with Tiger or the grooves and all that," Billy Mayfair said. "We've always been a real clean sport. This has maybe given our sport a little bit of a hit, but we're all professionals, and people love coming out here, so we'll work our way out of it."

"Everybody looks forward to this week every year, regardless of when it is, regardless of whether Tiger has stuff going on with him or grooves issues or anything," Trahan maintained. "This is just a week that everybody looks forward to regardless. It's always good to be here."

Speaking of Woods, his 1997 hole-in-one -- complete with raise-the-roof reaction -- remains one of just seven aces since the tournament moved here 23 years ago, and no player has posted one since Mike Sposa in 2002.

Mediate, always a fan favorite, remembers being paired with Tiger for the final two rounds during his victory here, which led to his personal most memorable moment on 16.

"I got up there, had a 2-shot lead with three to go," he recalled. "Hit a beautiful 8-iron just over to the back edge of the green. I don't remember anything about the swing. I was so nervous. … It was so quiet, and then as soon as it left -- bang! Completely nuts. Insanity."

It may be insanity, but there is sort of a controlled chaos at 16. That's what continues to draw players to the hole, collectively getting them excited to play a fairly regular par-3 of moderate length.

Even those who have gotten booed for hitting a good shot.

"I love it. I think it's awesome," Piercy said. "It's like the only time all year we get to be rock stars, right?"

Jason Sobel is a golf writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com.

Jason Sobel | email

Golf Editor, ESPN.com
Jason Sobel, who joined ESPN in 1997, earned four Sports Emmy awards as a member of ESPN's Studio Production department. He became ESPN.com's golf editor in July 2004.