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Wednesday, May 8, 2013

What Do Fans Really Want?

It happens on GC every year at this time -- Brandell Chamblee and Frank Nobilo have a "debate" about whether the 17th at TPC Sawgrass is a good hole or not. Chamblee hates it and Nobilo thinks it's what the fans want -- namely, the chance to watch the pros crash and burn. (In the following picture from www.tpc.com, the tee is in the upper left corner.)

17 at TPC Sawgrass

What do the fans really want? I have my own opinion.

The "important" people in the game tend to talk about tradition and character and all those niceties that come up in any discussion of golf. But I think most of them are missing something important about sport in general... and if you want golf to compete for the hearts and minds of fans the same way football, soccer, baseball, and basketball do, you need to take this into account.

In any sport there's a hardcore group of fans who revel in the history of the game. But the vast part of the fanbase -- call them the "unwashed masses" if you must -- have a far more basic desire. They want a party.

There's a reason the Scottsdale event can compete with SuperBowl Sunday. The raucous stadium set up around the 16th hole, with fans screaming the way they do at any other sports stadium, is the big draw. It sells out on SuperBowl Sunday every single year.

Brandell contrasted the reverence of the Masters to the "crash and burn" mentality of the 17th at the TPC. But I would remind everybody that "reverence" didn't stop fans and players alike from lamenting the lack of roars on Sunday's back 9 when the Masters course was toughened up... or from applauding when Augusta National changed their setup and brought the roars back.

I don't doubt that some golf fans believe a nice quiet tournament, complete with gentle golf claps, is the proper and traditional way to view golf. I don't doubt that some pros want the whole course so quiet that they can hear a pin drop while they spend 5+ hours crawling around the course, meditating before they hit each shot. I'm sure all of the powers-that-be want to be seen as paragons of virtue in a sport of character... even though we all know players are getting fined and disciplined despite the Tour's refusal to admit it ever happens.

But if they really want to see the game become popular with a huge group of fans, I have two words for them: RYDER CUP. That's the "reverence" most fans want. And whatever you think of the 17th at Sawgrass, remember that Pete Dye at least recognized that basic truth.

As for me, I am one of those who will be watching the 17th with great enthusiasm -- especially on Sunday afternoon -- and proud of it. I am rabble, hear me roar. ;-)

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