Attendance on Saturday of this year’s Waste Management Phoenix Open set a single-day record: 179,022. Overall, the Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale is annually the PGA Tour’s best-attended event.
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Those numbers could take a hit next year, following the announcement Tuesday that the famed caddie races at that tournament and the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial will be banned starting in 2014.
“We have advised the folks at Colonial and out in Phoenix to discontinue the caddie races,” Andy Pazder, executive vice president and chief of operations of the Tour, told GolfChannel.com. “It was a situation where we developed a little concern about caddies’ safety. Running 150 yards puts caddies at risk for injury. I had caddies come to me in Phoenix and at Colonial saying, ‘This is ridiculous, it’s like we are a carnival show.'”
A little background: After the players hit their tee shots on the par-3 16th at TPC Scottsdale, it’s common for the caddies, with the bags on their backs, to race each other to the green 160 yards away. The hole is lined with thousands of fans sitting in the grandstands, so cheers and/or boos ring out depending on the caddies’ performances.
From an entertainment standpoint, it may be the best hole in golf. Who doesn’t want to see a couple middle-aged men with 50 pounds of clubs on their back in a foot race? Sometimes they fall, sometimes they dive, but it’s always entertaining.
Rather, tournament officials will ask fans at that 16th hole to choose a player from each group who they think will hit it closest to the pin, voting via a smartphone app. They might as well ask them to watch the Super Bowl pre-game coverage instead (the golf tournament takes place the same weekend as the NFL’s big game). And the PGA Tour might well acquire the nickname often dogging the NFL — the No Fun League — which every year seems to further squash player celebrations.
Look, we don’t want to see caddies getting hurt. But the caddies aren’t forced to race, it’s always up to them. This is one time when they’re in the spotlight instead of their golfer. And the problem with that is what? About the only other time caddies get attention is when they screw up. It’s one hole at one or two tournaments a year. If caddies were racing at every tournament, then we could see the issue.
People love watching other people engage in a foot race. It’s the most original form of competition, and still among the most entertaining. That’s why the men’s 100-meter sprint is the most popular event of the Olympics. That’s why mascot races are a staple at professional baseball games. That’s why humans attempt to race animals.
Banning caddie races is depriving the fans of what they want and it’s those very fans who are spending their hard-earned money coming to tournaments, buying souvenirs and watching your broadcasts. They want to see good golf, and the PGA Tour will provide that. But wouldn’t the game appeal to more fans if the experience evolved a bit… loosened up a bit. Remember boxing? It used to be among our country’s most popular sports, but now it’s MMA, a spruced-up form of hand-to-hand combat.
We’re not saying that a Tour without caddie races is going to kill the entire circuit. But sports/leagues/companies that fail to adapt or cater to their fans/customers ultimately fail themselves.