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Thunderbirds looking at ways to tame Phoenix Open after wild, muddy mess

Feb 16, 2024, 6:26 PM

Fans at the 2024 WM Phoenix Open...

Fans of Nick Taylor of Canada are seen on the 18th hole during the final round of the WM Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale on February 11, 2024 in Scottsdale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) — “The Greatest Show on Grass” may be a bit tamer next year.

The Thunderbirds, who operate the Phoenix Open, plan to spend the next 11 months looking for ways to implement changes after the tournament nearly veered out of control last week.

“We are aware that changes need to be made and we will spend the upcoming months identifying those areas where change is necessary,” the Thunderbirds said in a statement Thursday night. ”Not just for Friday and Saturday, but for the entire week.”

The Phoenix Open has been the wildest stop on the PGA Tour for years. More than 700,000 fans fill TPC Scottsdale during the tournament — typically 200,000 or more on Saturday — with the majority jammed around the holes near the clubhouse and the stadium 16th hole.

Tour players expect the noise and chaos at the tournament, even embracing the constant din and shouts on No. 16.

The fans took it a bit too far this year as multiple storms turned the non-playing areas into a muddy mess.

The Thunderbirds took the unprecedented step of closing the entrance gate and cutting off alcohol sales on Saturday as the rowdiness reached peak levels. They are now offering refunds for fans who were turned away.

“(The) rainfall made a large percentage of the 190-acre golf course unusable by our fans and created significant operational challenges for the tournament,” the Thunderbirds said. “When these conditions created congestion throughout the golf course on Saturday, the decision was made to temporarily close the main entrance and end concession sales so that we could provide a pathway for fans to safely exit the golf course.”

The issues over the weekend went beyond logistical issues.

Ryder Cup captain Zach Johnson and Billy Horschel were among the players who had enough of the constant commotion, engaging in angry interactions with unruly fans. Multiple players said after the tournament that changes had to be made.

Tournament officials have made tweaks to the wild week through the years, ending caddie races on the 16th hole and banning players from throwing T-shirts and other items into the crowd. They also switched to plastic cups on the 16th hole last year after aces on consecutive days led to beer-can showers that caused lengthy cleanups during the 2022 tournament.

The changes for the 2025 Phoenix Open will likely be more drastic following the pandemonium last week.

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