Are Crowds Getting Out Of Hand At Golf Events?

When normal pro golf is on, are the fans now a little too rowdy?

Are Crowds Getting Out Of Hand At Golf Events?
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Golf Monthly regulars Fergus Bisset and Jeremy Ellwood debate whether golf fans in pre-lockdown times have been getting just a little too rowdy.

Are Crowds Getting Out Of Hand At Golf Events?

Yes says Fergus Bisset

Hearty support for a favourite player or team adds greatly to the atmosphere at a golf event and can give player or side a huge boost – see Shane Lowry at Portrush or Europe’s Solheim Cup winners at Gleneagles.

But support should never come at the expense of golf’s honour and integrity and it should never be disrespectful of other competitors.

When a “fan” shouted at Ian Poulter’s ball to “get in the bunker” at last year’s FedEx St Jude Invitational or when the crowds supporting Dustin Johnson at Bethpage cheered Brooks Koepka’s miscued irons and encouraged him to “choke,” they were not acting in the spirit of the game and they did get out of hand.

“Heckling” is not the direction golf should head in.

Unfortunately, the instances of such negative behaviour are no longer confined to occasional outbursts by partisan Ryder Cup crowds, they are occurring at regular events.

This must be stamped out quickly.

If it becomes the norm to cheer when a less-favoured player finds trouble, the trend will be difficult to reverse.

When it comes to vocal outbursts, there are few who would condone the modern fad for shouting inanities as close as possible to the point of impact.

Crying out “cheeseburger” just as a player makes contact has nothing to do with supporting the player, the event or the sport.

It’s simply a display of absurdity and those who do it must be seen as out of hand.

Further acts of idiocy at golf tournaments are being laughed at rather than condoned - see the drunken streaker on the 17th hole at the 2018 Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Despite receiving fines and jail time, and losing his job, the 24-year-old said it was “worth it.”

Golf needs strong and involved support but this shouldn’t be negative or ridiculous.

Poor crowd behaviour begets poor crowd behaviour and in no way should it be tolerated.

Are Crowds Getting Out Of Hand At Golf Events?

No says Jeremy Ellwood

"It never did register. I mean that’s the phenomenon everybody can’t understand – how can you not hear the gallery? I say, I was playing golf, I paid no attention to anybody. I’m a young kid, 22 years old with blinders on. I had one thing in mind and that was to win that golf tournament."

A recent tour winner explaining how he shut out the more unruly elements of the crowd to claim victory?

No, the words of Jack Nicklaus after the 1962 US Open at Oakmont, when, as young pretender to fan favourite Arnold Palmer’s throne, he came in for some harsh treatment from a partisan crowd who called him names, cheered when he missed a shot and made it abundantly clear that the last thing they wanted was for him to dethrone their hero.

With all the boorish shouts of “mashed potato”, “get in the hole” and worse, coupled with poor phone camera etiquette, it’s easy to think this is the first time golf fans have crossed the line, but it isn’t – we just see it more because of wider media coverage.

Golf is played in a vast open arena that we can’t expect to be a noiseless vacuum and holes like the 16th in Phoenix or the 1st tee at a Ryder Cup are actively encouraging more boisterous fan interaction.

Talking of the Ryder Cup, putting fingers to lips to shush a crowd or cupping hands to ears are bound to spark a reaction, so players themselves are not entirely blameless.

It’s easy to tar everyone with the same brush when it’s usually only a minority misbehaving.

Are crowds getting out of hand at golf events?

No. Is a certain element of golf’s large fan base occasionally crossing the boundary?

Yes, but it probably always has.

Fergus Bisset
Contributing Editor

Fergus is Golf Monthly's resident expert on the history of the game and has written extensively on that subject. He is a golf obsessive and 1-handicapper. Growing up in the North East of Scotland, golf runs through his veins and his passion for the sport was bolstered during his time at St Andrews university studying history. He went on to earn a post graduate diploma from the London School of Journalism. Fergus has worked for Golf Monthly since 2004 and has written two books on the game; "Great Golf Debates" together with Jezz Ellwood of Golf Monthly and the history section of "The Ultimate Golf Book" together with Neil Tappin , also of Golf Monthly. 

Fergus once shanked a ball from just over Granny Clark's Wynd on the 18th of the Old Course that struck the St Andrews Golf Club and rebounded into the Valley of Sin, from where he saved par. Who says there's no golfing god?