Players prepare to battle the Bear Trap and rowdy crowds at The Honda Classic

PGA National
Dan McDonald | PGA.com
Starting with the par-3 16th, players must navigate through a difficult stretch of holes -- known as the Bear Trap -- in addition to large and sometimes rowdy crowds.
By
Craig Davis
Sun Sentinal

Series: Golf Buzz

Published: Wednesday, February 21, 2018 | 1:37 p.m.
PALM BEACH GARDENS -- It used to be that golf decorum dictated spectators be quiet as a church mouse with PGA players at work. Only birds got away with a chirp during a backswing.
 
Officials still do their best to enforce a hush when players are putting or teeing off. But with increasing emphasis on creating party zones at major tournaments, such as on the Bear Trap holes at the Honda Classic, PGA galleries are taking on the timbre of the NFL and NASCAR.
 
Last year some players complained about heckling by fans in PGA National's three-hole gauntlet (No. 15, 16, 17) of the Bear Trap, where flowing spirits and strength in numbers loosen inhibitions.
 
Larger and louder crowds are likely at the week's Honda Classic with Tiger Woods playing here for the first time since 2014. That was the case at last week's Genesis Open at Pacific Palisades, Calif., which prompted Rory McIlroy, after playing a round with Woods, to remark, "I need a couple Advil just to -- I've got a headache after all that."
 
 
Increasingly rowdy galleries at the Honda Classic are the byproduct of a concerted effort that has resulted in the growing popularity of the tournament and it being recognized as the most fan-friendly event on the tour since moving to PGA National in 2007.
 
"We're always walking the line there and we need to make sure we continue to respect the players while at the same time giving people a great opportunity to enjoy themselves," said Ken Kennerly, executive director of the Honda Classic.
 
The complex of viewing and hospitality options in the Bear Trap have been increased from 10,000 square feet to more than 80,000 square feet in this, the 12th running of the event at PGA National.
 
The apex is around the 17th tee, which is surrounded on three sides by grandstand seating open to the public with a capacity of 4,500 spectators. That doesn't include several nearby liquor lounges, including Tito's Stillhouse Lounge, FPL Patio and Devonshire Wine Garden.
 
There is also a 7,000-square foot Patriot's Outpost for active, reserve and retired military personnel at No. 17.
 
"You do get some people out there who have a few drinks at the Beat Trap. And they're pretty close to you, especially on the 17th tee," defending Honda champion Rickie Fowler said.
 
"I think the biggest thing we ask of them is being respectful and understanding that it is a very hard golf shot. I think some people expect us to hit a 4-iron to within 10 feet every time when the wind's blowing out there, which is not going to happen."
 
The size and raucousness of the Bear Trap crowds have not been on the level of the Phoenix Open's infamous No. 16 at TPC Scottsdale, the undisputed most unruly outpost on tour.
 
The antics there are legendary, with fans often dressed in outlandish costumes, drinking nonstop and wagering on everything from the next shot to which caddy will reach the green first.
 
But Scottsdale's No. 16 plays tame by comparison to No. 17 on the Champion course at PGA National, a very challenging 190-yard par 3 that carries over a sizable lake to a very small green guarded by bunkers on the left. It was playing into a strong wind during Tuesday's practice round.
 
"The 16th hole at is a pretty easy golf shot under a lot of pressure. The 17th here is an incredibly difficult shot under a lot of pressure," said Padraig Harrington, a two-time Honda winner. "The actual spectator stand is literally on top of the tee box. It's within feet of the tee box, so you can hear a lot."
 
At last year's Honda, Masters champion Sergio Garcia was heckled after missing a short putt and was the target of some raw remarks throughout the week on the way to finishing in a tie for 14th.
 
 
Garcia complained about fan behavior to Honda Classic officials, as did Billy Horschel, who suggested that rude treatment could lead to players avoiding the tournament. Garcia and Horschel are both playing this week.
 
"When it gets a little bit out of hand, then it becomes a little bit too much of a party time," Garcia said Tuesday. "The people have to realize that, yeah we're trying to make sure they have a good time, but if they are making it harder for us to create good golf, it's tougher for them to enjoy it, too."
 
Tournament officials responded last year with some beefed-up security, and some spectators were ejected.
 
But Kennerly makes it clear that the emphasis will continue to be on entertainment and amenities.
 
"We didn't build our Bear Trap to be a copy of ," Kennerly said. "Rather, I wanted to make sure that we created a reason for people to come out here and enjoy it. At the end of the day we're in the entertainment space, we're not just in the golf space.
 
"If we were just focused on the golf brand, you certainly wouldn't see the crowds that we see out here. You certainly wouldn't see the average age being as young as it is. This is one of the youngest average ages on the PGA tour."
 
Harrington said players will adjust to the changing atmosphere and that he prefers to play for the heftier prize money that increased fan interest and attendance makes possible.
 
"It's fun to have that kind of energy and atmosphere to have people that would show up to the golf tournament that may typically not just because it's the cool place to be, there's things going on," Fowler said. "I don't mind the loud crowds. It's fun, and luckily a lot of them are on my side."
 
Here are some other new additions this year to boost the fan experience at the Honda Classic:
 
Lilly Pulitzer Lounge: A variety of Lilly Pulitzer attire will be for sale in the lounge at the 10th green, along with signature drinks. A limited-edition "The Honda Classic" print will be offered, with proceeds going to the Honda Classic Cares charity.
 
Better phone-charging service: Spectators can leave their phones in any of 128 mini-lockers to recharge at four locations on the course.
 
Bear Trap shuttle: SunPass is sponsoring a shuttle to and from the Bear Trap holes.
 
As for keeping fans from infringing on the competition, Harrington said, "I'm sure if I was at a sporting event, I might be a bit raucous and shouting and enjoying myself. It just needs to be managed in the right way."
 
 
This article is written by Craig Davis from Sun Sentinel and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.