For the record, I’m a casual golf fan—I can name most of the popular professional golfers, and I’ll typically watch three of the four days of the major tournaments on TV only if there’s not a better sport on at the same time. But that’s where it ends for me. I can’t tell you who the top 10 golfers in the world are based on their ranking (interestingly enough, the top 10 ranked golfers are not necessarily the most popular golfers to the casual fan), and I certainly can’t pretend like I’ll watch one of the lesser-known tournaments.
As far as my golf-playing abilities, I’ll just tell you that I’m left-handed, have been playing golf left-handed for the past 14 years, but there’s a chance I could start playing right-handed tomorrow and immediately be better. I’m uncommitted enough to the sport that I’m living in LA and my clubs still live in San Francisco.
But I’m going to try to convince you that watching a major golf tournament in person may be the best live sporting event you can attend—whether you’re a diehard golf fan or someone who doesn’t know the difference between Tiger Woods and a 5-Wood.
While I’ll try to sound like a total expert on this topic, I’ve actually been to only two major golf tournaments in my life: the 2010 U.S Open at Pebble Beach and the 2012 U.S. Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco. These experiences were amazing enough that I will probably attend any Major for the rest of my life that is taking place within a 500-mile radius of where I live.
A quick note for the uninitiated: there are four Major Tournaments in golf each year, and in terms of importance, you should think of them as the Championships. The best golfers in the world are ultimately measured in terms of how many Majors they’ve won. So while there is only one Championship in baseball, basketball, football and hockey each year, there are essentially four in golf.
Here’s one man’s incomplete list of why a Major is the best live sporting event you can see in person:
-$6 per beer! Let’s start off with the most important reason. Every sporting event is better with alcohol, but we’ve all been conditioned to expect to pay nearly $10 per beer at every stadium. At these golf tournaments, you pay only $6…meaning by the time you’ve spent $60 on alcohol, you’ve had four more beers than if you were at a baseball game. That’s a steal! (I should add the lack of a two-beer limit at the concession stands as a plus for those of you who like to triple or quadruple-fist your drinks.)
-No assigned seating. There’s an amazing freedom when it comes to being at a golf tournament. Your ticket allows you to roam around the course, watching golfers at as many of the 18 holes as you want. And you can choose to watch them teeing off at the start of a hole, hitting their second shots from (hopefully) the fairway, or snuggle up close to the green and watch them finish. You can choose to sit or stand on the grass around the green, or you can get a seat in the makeshift bleachers they setup at every hole. There’s really no limit to where you choose to watch (apparently if you’re the second best NFL quarterback, you can even follow Tiger Woods around to each hole inside the ropes where the public is not allowed, just like Aaron Rodgers did last Friday at the U.S. Open). This means there’s a decent chance some of the best golfers in the world are taking a shot within five feet of where you’re watching. By comparison, think about the ticket you buy for a playoff basketball game. It probably cost you $150 and you’re probably in the nosebleeds. You’re stuck there and it sucks. Even if you paid $2,000 for a 3rd row seat, Lebron is never going to be taking a three-pointer from a spot where you could reach out and touch him.
-Speaking of ticket prices…only $100 per ticket. This may seem expensive to watch a bunch of guys play golf, but let’s put it in the perspective of a Major being the equivalent of a Championship game in other sports. Even if you get a ticket to a Stanley Cup Finals game for $100, you’re paying for essentially three hours of entertainment (or $33.33 per hour). One day at the golf tournament gives you about 12 hours of entertainment if you choose to be there that long (or $8.33 per hour). You tell me which is the bigger bang for your buck? Actually, the ticket prices for the weekend days of the Open were $125, but plenty of people were selling them on Craigslist for $100. When’s the last time you bought tickets for a playoff game BELOW FACE VALUE??
-Chance an errant shot lands directly in front of you. Here’s another beauty of golf: Even though the golfers would like to play all their shots from within the roped off section because that’s where they’re supposed to hit it, it never works out that way. Every player screws up bad enough that they have shots where the ball goes into the crowd. When this happens, if you’re lucky enough to be standing near where the ball lands, you get to see one of the coolest things in sports…a golfer only 18 inches away from you, talking to his caddy about how the hell he’s going to hit from behind a giant Cypress tree. And you’re actually allowed to crowd around the guy when he takes this next shot. Just take a look at this youtube clip to see what I’m talking about. This situation happened to me three or four times in one day at the Open last weekend, and being up close and personal for these shots was cooler than I can describe.
-No jumbotrons or artificially pumping up the crowd. Unlike at venues that host the four popular sports, there is no one on a golf course telling the fans when to get loud. Actually it’s the exact opposite. Officials have to signal the fans to be silent when a player’s about to swing. What this means to me is that you get a lot more natural of a crowd reaction in golf. There’s no stupid scoreboard telling the fans to yell “De-Fense” or simply urging them to “get loud.” When a golf crowd goes bonkers, it’s organic…the shot they watched was simply that amazing.
-Speaking of the venues, golf is the only sport where the playing surface is truly an X factor for the players. In fact, sometimes the golf course can end up being the biggest star of the weekend because it’s so unique, difficult, beautiful or something else (like this past weekend in San Francisco…the Olympic Club course was talked about more than any single player. It was so difficult that we were surprised to see most of the players even bother showing up for their final round on Sunday). And the courses can be so different from one tournament to another. One tournament you might have a hole that’s 670 yards long, and the next tournament there’s no hole longer than 550 yards. Always bringing a new challenge for the players. Obviously in football, the field is always 100 yards long. In basketball the court is 94 feet long. There are no hills, no water, no sand traps and no trees to compete with in these sports. The golf course is an added opponent for the players.
-Rooting for every player to do well. Like I said earlier, I’m a casual fan so maybe this is different for hardcore golf enthusiasts, but I doubt it. At a golf tournament, the entire crowd is rooting for every player to succeed. Since it’s not a sport where the guys play defense on each other, you don’t have to pick which side to root for on a specific play. You can root for every golfer to have great shots and scores, and eventually someone will be just enough better to win. In golf, the crowd tends to be supportive of great shots and great play rather than cheering for a specific player or team. And you certainly never see the crowd booing one of the golfers. Compared to those other sports, being at a golf event is full of positive vibes and reactions from the entire crowd. What’s not to love about that?
-Golf fans’ attire. Before you go thinking golf is too serious, just know that there’s a very humorous aspect to being at a tournament. Golf fans apparently like to dress up as if they are actually playing golf when they go to see a tournament. I really struggle to understand this phenomenon. It seems like everyone wants to be ready in case the PGA starts asking fans to participate in the tournament. Fans will dress up in ridiculously goofy pants, polo shirts and sweater vests. And believe it or not, many of them will actually wear golf shoes with the spikes on the bottom…to watch other people golf! Can you imagine if hockey fans dressed up in full gear, including helmets to see an NHL game? Or if all basketball fans only wore mesh shorts and a tank top to NBA games? Keep in mind that there is plenty of funny people watching at these golf events.
Now before the naysayers can say nay about my article, let me bring up the one negative people are likely to point out. “There are 18 holes on the golf course and upwards of 150 players competing. In every other sport you can see the entire game happen, with all the players involved, from your seat. In golf, you can never see everything so you’re missing out on a lot.” That’s fair. But at least at these majors they do a great job having a leaderboard setup at every hole so you can constantly see who’s winning overall and who’s moving up or down. On top of that, they give you a little radio earpiece that broadcasts the live coverage of the tournament. So even if you’re standing at the 13th hole watching the guys in last place, you can be listening to what’s happening with the leaders over on the 2nd hole. When a new group of players approaches your hole, you’re always up-to-date on where they’re at in the standings.
I know this list is incomplete so I urge my fellow U.S. Open compadres to add more reasons in the comment section.