Golf, as a sport, has spent the past few years trying to find its footing with the casual sports fan in a post-Tiger Woods era. Tiger was transcendent, a figure that wasn’t just an icon of golf but he was an icon of sports, and in his absence from the game due to injury, the sport has looked to move forward without him.
For golf fans, this hasn’t been a problem. There are a bevy of young stars that have taken up the mantle in Woods’ stead, along with some old favorites still playing at a high level. Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, and Rickie Fowler are all under 30 years old and each bring a flair to the game unique to themselves, giving every kind of golf fan a star to match their favorite style. Others are gunning to join them in that status of being a global golf superstar, like recent major winners Brooks Koepka and Justin Thomas, making claims about golf’s impending demise after the Tiger Woods era far overblown.
Thomas took home his first major win two weeks ago at the PGA Championship, where he put in a virtuoso performance in the final round at Quail Hollow in Charlotte to outlast the rest of the top contenders. Like the other names mentioned above, Thomas is in his mid-20s with other worldly talent on the course, and those that came out to Quail Hollow were treated to an exhibition of those talents and some high drama put forth by the Alabama grad.
The crowd in Charlotte skewed younger than most would expect at a golf event, and with plenty of watering holes and good luck with the weather, there wasn’t a better way to spend your day than strolling around Quail Hollow with friends, having some beverages and enjoying the tremendous views of the course and some fantastic golf.
The beauty of golf in 2017 is that there are, at any given time, a half dozen to a dozen golfers that you feel have a genuine chance at winning the tournament rather than one, depending on the quality of the field. When Tiger Woods roamed a golf course, that wasn’t always the case, but it made was an easy choice for the casual fan that decided to pop in to their local PGA Tour event. You followed the throngs of people chasing Woods around the course, hoping to catch a little bit of that Tiger magic and a vintage fist pump.
Now, there isn’t that guy on the course at every tournament, especially in majors, but the in person experience of a golf tournament can actually be more freeing when you aren’t solely focused on a singular star. There are many ways to take in a golf tournament in person to create the best experience for yourself, everyone has their chosen method, and we’ll run through them all right here.
Follow One Group
There are those dedicated fans that will stick with their guy — hello, Rickie Fowler fans clad in all-orange — but I prefer a more diversified approach to taking in a tournament and there are a few ways to get this experience. Following one group around the course for five-plus hours can be exhausting and, to be honest, a bit boring. You see the same guys hitting all day and by the back nine, it begins to get repetitive. If you’re following a marquee group all day, you’ll often find yourself battling for position within the gallery to not have obstructed views. Also, following one group you are far more aware of the sluggish pace of play that plagues the PGA Tour. It’s not for me, but I respect those that grind it out with one group all day for 18 holes.
Sit In The Grandstands
Grandstands can be great. They are usually set up at a signature hole and provide you a better view of the green than standing at ground level. You also get to sit down, which is a nice bonus at a golf tournament, and usually there’s a concessions stand built into the grandstand around back. It’s not bad living, but, like with following one group, watching a single hole all day can get repetitive and a bit slow depending on backups on the course. There are very few holes that provide enough excitement throughout the day to make this worth it. Nos. 12 and 16 at Augusta National immediately come to mind, but a good par 3 over water will often suffice — No. 4 at Baltusrol for the 2016 PGA was also fantastic.
Get A Hospitality Badge
Outside of NASCAR, no sport shows love to the sponsors quite like golf. At each PGA Tour event, you’ll find hospitality tents, usually on the 18th hole, where if you are lucky enough to have a badge, you can get complimentary beverages and food and there’s usually a great view to be had from outside of the finishing hole. This is the luxury car version of sitting in the grandstands.
At the PGA Championship, I was lucky enough to have a pass to get in the lovely Mercedes-Benz chalet at Quail Hollow, where I could step into the air-conditioned tent and cool off with an adult beverage and some food and have an unobstructed view of the beautiful finishing hole.
If you have the means or a connection to an event sponsor to swipe a hospitality badge, there’s no better way to go. It’s made even better if you combine that with my personal favorite way to take in an event.
Roam The Course
This one takes the most planning of all the options, but it remains my favorite. The first thing you have to do is snag a tee time sheet and generally understand the timing of a professional golf tournament. Scoreboards will give you an idea of where the leaders are, as it says what hole they’ve most recently completed, but sometimes you’re looking for someone outside the top 10 or not in view of a scoreboard, meaning math has to come into play.
Pace of play on the PGA Tour sadly does not abide by your typical 4:15 round that your local course’s pace of play calls for. It’s more like five hours, with majors sometimes tipping the scales on 5:30. That means you’re averaging nearly 17 minutes per hole, so, when trying to guesstimate where a group will be, simply calculate the minutes it’s been since they’ve teed off divided by 16 or 17 and you’ll know what hole they are on.
My preferred plan is to walk a few holes with a group and then park near the green of one of the money holes — par 3’s, par 5’s, and short par 4’s, usually — and watch a couple other groups come through and until another of my favorite golfers or groupings get there, and walk with them until we hit another money hole and continue this process. This ensures a few things.
One, I see all the guys (or ladies, if an LPGA event) I want to see, and it also lets me take in multiple shots on the most exciting holes on the course. It blends the follow one group method with the grandstand method to keep things fresh and see as much golf and as much of the course as possible. If you have a hospitality tent to pop into to replenish your beverage and cool off for a minute, it’s pretty much the perfect way to spend a day.