When Does Golf Spectator Behaviour Turn Unacceptable?
Article by Alex Picken
Once again Justin Thomas claimed another brilliant PGA Tour win in Florida at the Honda Classic. He clinically and powerfully defeated a talented field along with strategically plotting his way through the infamous Bear Trap at the PGA National Resort to claim a playoff victory.
His triumph however appeared to be marked with a controversial incident regarding a fan who had been supposedly shouting constant abuse and yelling at Justin Thomas throughout his final round. The shouting finally culminated in Justin Thomas asking for the fan to be removed from the course on Hole 16 after the fan was shouting for Thomas’ ball to get into the bunker. Thomas later apologised on Twitter for removing him, simply stating that he felt the individual’s comments directed at him all day were inappropriate and therefore he politely asked for him to be removed from spectating the final events of the day.
Opinions about the removal of the fan have been divided online and on social media. Some people agreed with his actions believing there should be no place for that kind of behaviour on any golf course, while other people found it unfair and obnoxious of Thomas to get rid of a particular fan for comments he disliked, when the game has seen an increase in boisterous behaviour in nearly all professional tournament events.
Now obviously I firmly believe like most sport fans would, that abusive comments towards any athlete or sports person is completely unjustified and shouldn’t be tolerated under any circumstances. However, the issue regarding Thomas does raise a few questions as to which kind of behaviour golfers and golfing fans will tolerate during tournaments. Where should the line be drawn?
Take Europe for example, golf in Scotland and England particularly is famous for keeping up strict traditions of formal behaviour and etiquette. This is reflected in European Tour events and Open Championships, in general, the fans at these events are always relatively calm and well behaved, you don’t typically hear shouts of “GET IN THE HOLE!” or “SMASH POTATO” when players are hitting their tee shots on the Thursday of an Open at St Andrews. For some, this is the way golf should always continue to be, the games ideals and values are built on respect, discipline and etiquette and heckling and shouting have no place in the sport. People attend these tournaments primarily to witness and appreciate the talent of these incredible players, not to treat the 4-day tournament as a big party.
However, an opposing argument for this would suggest that this very solemn behaviour from fans in Europe is a factor in causing golf to become old fashioned and boring. A recent survey in the U.K actually voted golf the most boring sport to watch. A recent R&A report would agree with this as they have stressed the urgency for golf to develop the image of the game from being a predominantly white, middle class sport. This evidence would suggest that the future of golf in the U.K is seemingly in trouble of becoming outdated and unpopular with the general public who are finding love with more exciting sports.
Across the pond however, it's a different story. Fan turnouts for PGA Tour events and US. Opens are always massive and play a significant part in creating such an amazing spectacle we all love to watch. This has led to a rise in viewership at events from a much younger generation, who are also typically the ones behind the boisterous and loud behaviour some golf fans find deplorable. In nearly all PGA Tour events we csee heckling and yelling from fans. Whether it’s shouting after players tee shots or yelling to get a short and stupid soundbite on TV, there always seems to be exuberant and rowdy fans at every American golfing event. In almost all sports this behaviour occurs, and in some sports this behaviour has tended to evolve into more aggressive, vulgar and even racial or sexist comments, something no-one wishes to see happen to the game we all love.
But is it possible that this behaviour is actually becoming a factor in creating an atmosphere at golfing events that attracts a whole new audience of fans to the game. Take the recent Waste Management Phoenix Open for example, the 16th hole at TPC Scottsdale is unique to golf and the fans have created a spectacle unlike anything the game has witnessed before. The 16th hole has been turned into a green colosseum of noise and crazy behaviour, fans shouting and clapping on players backswings, dressed up in a variety of stupid fancy dress costumes, while drinking and sunbathing in the Arizona sun is not the typical stereotype you think of when you are asked to picture a crowd of golf fans. But its this unique aspect of the Phoenix Open that is attracting so many new fans, the event broke it’s single-day attendance record this year on Saturday’s third round with over 215,000 fans coming through the gates.
It’s clear that both of these arguments have their merits. Respecting the traditions and etiquette of golf is the vital for the success and prosperity of the game. No-one wishes that the sport gets taken over by the actions of stupid and disrespectful fans who are intent on getting a reaction from the players or media. Unlike most sports, professional golfers are battling for their next pay-check each week, and if a specific player defines a fans actions as inappropriate or distracting towards them, then perhaps they should have the right to remove that player as Thomas did last week. However, we also have to appreciate that non-golfers have a very specific stereotype surrounding the sport, and this opinion of it being boring to watch does severely affect the popularity of the game we love so much. Therefore, is the yelling, drinking and occasional heckling from fans something that should be accepted by the sport in order to tap into a new audience and younger market of possible future golfers who may themselves take up the sport in later life, and hopefully get involved in a debate similar to this one.
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