The 16th at the FBR Open in 2008. The hole is known for rowdy fans.
Robert Beck/SI
Thursday, January 29, 2009

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Golfers speak in reverent tones about Augusta National's Amen Corner or the Road Hole at St. Andrews.

They use different terms to describe TPC Scottsdale's signature 16th Hole.

Crazy. Obnoxious. Nerve-racking.

``There's only one place on earth, one hole on earth like that,'' Camilo Villegas said.

The 16th Hole could be even rowdier this year at the FBR Open. The par-3, 162-yard hole has been fully enclosed with grandstands seating between 15,000 and 20,000 spectators.

``It looks unbelievable, but it's going to be a circus,'' said Pat Perez, coming off his first PGA Tour victory in last week's Bob Hope Classic. ``But it looks cool. It looks really cool, full-stadium effect. It's going to be loud.''

For Thursday's opening round, the crowd at the 16th may be larger - and noisier - than the 17,000-plus expected to attend that night's NBA game between the Phoenix Suns and the San Antonio Spurs at U.S. Airways Center in downtown Phoenix.

``The 16th Hole, which gets a lot of attention, is unique to golf,'' former local resident Phil Mickelson said. ``We just don't have anything like that. To have that type of environment that NBA players or football players experience, for us as golfers to be able to experience it is pretty cool.''

Mickelson, who won this event in 1996 and 2005 and lost to J.B. Holmes in a playoff last year, is among the favorites. This is Mickelson's 2009 debut, and he said he's confident after working with coach Butch Harmon over the winter.

``I've been working hard on my game, and because of that I'm fresh and physically and mentally ready to start playing,'' Mickelson said.

Mickelson will be among the darlings at the 16th Hole, but he knows the crowd can be fickle. Fans let him have it when he bogeyed the hole on Saturday a year ago.

Enfolded by an erector-set grandstand rising from the desert floor, the 16th Hole looks like nothing else on the PGA Tour.

Players enter through a long, dark tunnel, blinking as they step into a sun-splashed arena. Two-story corporate boxes - there are 146 skyboxes in all - wrap around the tee box.

A grandstand banks away from the right side of the green, with more skyboxes squeezing in on the left. A 969-square-foot video board rises above the seats, partially obscuring the McDowell Mountains.

``It's nerve-racking, that hole,'' Perez said. ``Everyone keeps saying it's the loudest hole in golf, and everyone is crazy and everyone does this, so everyone continues to do more every year to make it as loud and obnoxious as possible.''

The crowd is almost literally on top of the golfers. The venue was half-filled for Wednesday's pro-am, but many fans were warming up for the tournament, hooting when tee shots went awry.

``The fans are crazy,'' Villegas said. ``I know there's a lot of alcohol being served there. You're going to get people yelling great stuff and then people yelling some stuff that is maybe not appropriate.

``Hopefully I can hit it in the middle of the green four days and don't get booed,'' Villegas said. Holmes scored three pars and a birdie on the 16th last year on his way to his second FBR Open title. He's clearly comfortable playing in front of the throngs.

``With that many people around, it's not going to be dead silent,'' Holmes said.

The FBR Open has a well-deserved reputation for attracting throngs of partyers who know or care little about golf etiquette. It routinely draws the biggest crowds on the PGA Tour, and a record 538,356 spectators turned out last year with the Super Bowl in town.

Attendance typically plummets on Sunday, as the reveling masses run out of steam and others stay home to watch the Super Bowl. This year, with the hometown Arizona Cardinals in the Super Bowl, organizers are offering free Sunday admission to anyone in Cardinals gear. They're also hoping to stage a large-scale viewing party but first must iron out details with the NFL.

Woe be unto the golfer who professes a love for the Pittsburgh Steelers this week.

Golfers realize they need to bring more than their clubs and spikes to the FBR Open. They also need patience and a sense of humor - and a set of earplugs probably wouldn't hurt.

It's not for everybody.

``There's obviously a couple of (golfers) who probably don't like the noise,'' Anthony Kim said. ``But look, if you can't play in that atmosphere, don't come to this tournament. It's a one-time-a-year deal, and I enjoy it so much.''

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