SCOTTSDALE — A golf tournament is being played this week at TPC Scottsdale, though it can be hard to tell sometimes. The Waste(d) Management Phoenix Open, as it is often known, is the one event all year where the people-watching is trained as much—if not more—on those outside the ropes than on the people hitting the shots inside them.
There is a lot to see, especially on the famed par-3 16th hole. A man in a Big Bird costume. Two guys in wedding dresses, neither of them named Dennis Rodman. A woman, topless for longer than a moment.
There was the streaker of 2018 on the 17th hole—during the pro-am. And every year someone manages to find their way into the lake along the 18th.
That’s nothing. According to one source, during the 2014 tournament there were 19 arrests for public sex underneath the bleachers at 16.
“You mix a lot of booze, good weather and good-looking people, and it’s intoxicating,” one member of the Scottsdale Police Department said. “In more ways than one.”
“Women are here to be seen. The guys are trying to impress the girls, or their friends,” said another. “It’s the same stuff you see in bars, just magnified.”
Roughly 700,000 fans usually flock to the tournament each year. In some years, there are more than 200,000 in attendance on Saturday alone, always the most, ahem, colorful day of the week, with the scenes ranging from the PG to NC-17.
This year, it didn’t even take that long. On Tuesday afternoon, it wasn’t even 4 p.m. and one twenty-something fan was being helped from the course by two friends, too intoxicated to walk.
The following evening, during a Miranda Lambert show at the venue’s concert series at the Bird’s Nest across the street from the course, where the party carries on well past dark every night, a middle-aged gentleman was walking out to leave when he stumbled into a cactus.
Thursday afternoon, the clock had barely struck noon when one intoxicated fan was being carted out on a stretcher after suffering a fall.
With sunny skies and temperatures in the mid 70s forecast for Saturday, expect the party to be amplified.
It starts early, too.
In 2018, the tournament began what’s known as the Breakfast Club, for those eager fans who start lining up at 3 or 4 in the morning even though the gates don’t open until 7 a.m. A DJ spins tunes to keep them entertained, volunteers hand out burritos and water to keep them hydrated, and once the gates open it’s a sprint to 16 for one of the 3,700 first-come, first-serve bleacher seats—even though golf won’t reach the hole until hours later on the weekend.
The party is on, which means Scottsdale Police and the numerous state and federal agencies on hand, including the FBI, DEA and ATF, not to mention private security contractor Pro Em Security, will be busy.
How much security does the event have? Several hundred individuals are on patrol, both uniformed and undercover, with nearly as many stealth cameras (not to mention other, more secretive methods of tracking) on the property watching over everything and everyone. There’s also a police officer assigned to every group, something the tournament started this year.
“This is the Super Bowl for us,” said Sgt. Ben Hoster, a 20-plus year veteran of Scottsdale P.D., who noted there is actually more security and law enforcement personnel on hand for the Waste Management than there was when the Super Bowl was played in nearby Glendale five years ago. “There is a lot of alcohol. We see a lot of disorderly conducts, trespassing, the occasional dispute. A lot of times we’ll simply escort someone out and say they’re done for the day. It gives us a way to get them off the course because we want to limit the distraction on the course quickly and get them in here and treat them and send them off.”
While officers have had to draw their guns before—usually as a preventative measure—they’ve never used them, though people have been tased.
Things did take a far more serious turn, however, last year when an angry fan who was shut out of tickets called the ticket office and said he was going “shoot up the place.” The incident was treated as a terrorist threat and soon the weight of the federal government was unleashed. Before long, law enforcement had identified the man and where he was staying, was able to track his movements and found him, unarmed, on a hillside inside the tournament before he was arrested.
For less serious crimes, as most are, Scottsdale P.D. created a processing center just outside the course. It’s not quite the jail cell that the Philadelphia Eagles famously once had at Veterans Stadium, but it allows them to issue citations, let over-served fans sober up and move the distraction away from the golf course. They even offer a free breathalyzer test for the departing inebriated to make sure they don’t get behind the wheel in a state with a zero tolerance DUI policy.
“Hospitals are loaded right now so we don’t wanna overload them with people who are intoxicated,” said Scottsdale Fire Dept. Capt. Dave Folio. “It gives us a way to get them off the course then treat them and send them off.”
Still, some moments are more memorable than others. Less hazy, too.
Assistant tournament director Scott Jenkins has been attending the tournament since he was in high school and as a college student was behind the tee box at 16 in 1997 — when it was just a tee box without a stadium surrounding it — when Tiger Woods famously aced it. A barrage of beer cans followed (albeit not by Jenkins, he says).
“That was insane,” he said.
Finally, something to see on the golf course.