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All your rowdy friends are at the golf course … and that’s a problem

Golfers are complaining about the raucous and drunken behavior of fans.
Rory McIlroy signed many autographs for fans during a Tuesday practice round for the Valspar Championship. (Scott Purks, Special to the Times)
Rory McIlroy signed many autographs for fans during a Tuesday practice round for the Valspar Championship. (Scott Purks, Special to the Times)
Published Mar. 20, 2018
Updated Mar. 21, 2018

We have never seen crowds at the Valspar Championship like we did this year. And considering that there were upwards of 30,000 fans a day, the environment, for the most part, was pleasant and respectful.

But it was not perfect.

I walked the course for four days following Tiger Woods. I walked just inside the ropes, but right alongside the fans who lined the tee boxes, fairways and greens. I was close enough to see and hear more than a few fans who appeared to have had a few too many drinks. They were loud, obnoxious and vulgar.

They used foul language. They talked when they weren't supposed to. They acted like idiots.

They behaved in ways that don't come across while watching golf on television.

Sadly, such rude behavior at sporting events has become common enough that we've gotten used to it. Worse, we've come to accept it as part of the sports-going experience, even at the so-called "gentleman's" sport of golf.

But now someone is speaking out about it. Golfer Rory McIlroy, who won last week's Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando, said golf needs to think about limiting the sale of alcohol to fans.

McIlroy is right.

"There was one guy out there who kept yelling my wife's name," McIlroy said during the Orlando tournament. "I was going to go over and have a chat with him. I don't know, I think it's gotten a little much, to be honest. I think that they need to limit the alcohol sales on the course, or they need to do something because every week it seems like guys are complaining about it more and more."

McIlroy had to be careful with his comments. The last thing you want to do is offend the very fans who pay your salary. In addition, he knows that the relationship between sports and alcohol has been and always will be vital, starting with the fact that beer is one of the biggest sponsors in athletics.

"I know that people want to come and enjoy themselves and whatever, and I'm all for that, but sometimes when the comments get personal and people get a little bit rowdy it can get a little much," McIlroy said. "It used to be like you bring beers on to the course or buy beers but not liquor. And now it seems like everyone's walking around with a cocktail or whatever. So I don't know whether it's just go back to letting people walk around with beers in their hand, that's fine, but, I don't know."

Now, you might read McIlroy's comments and roll your eyes. You might dismiss him as being a baby, a diva golfer who would never be able to hack it in sports where fans yell and make noise. What if he played football?
But I'll say two things about that.

One, football has a problem, too. You ever sit in the stands for an NFL game? While the league and franchises are doing their best to control fan behavior, it's not always a family-friendly atmosphere.

Secondly, McIlroy does not play football. He plays golf, which is a sport where everyone, including the fans, knows the etiquette involved. You're supposed to be quiet.

Then you get tournaments such the PGA stop in Phoenix, which seems proud to be the rowdiest party on the PGA Tour. It's essentially a roadside bar with a golf tournament.

On the par-3 16th hole at Phoenix, fans are encouraged to drink and get loud. The Valspar has its own version: the par-4 12th hole, also know as the Hooters Owl's Nest.

The Owl's Nest can be a lot of fun. Fans cheer great shots and jeer bad ones. The players mostly seem to enjoy it. But there's no question that there's plenty of drinking and partying and that it can lead to some ugly behavior, such as making too much noise during shots.

"It's obvious a lot of tournaments see how successful Phoenix is and they want to try to replicate that, which is great," McIlroy said. "It's great for the tournament; it's great for us. But golf is different than a football game, and there's etiquette involved. You don't want people to be put off from bringing their kids when people are shouting stuff out. You want people to enjoy themselves, have a good day."

No one deals with fans on the course more than Woods. And, unprompted, he recently mentioned the topic of alcohol and golf to ESPN.

"I know Phoenix," Woods told ESPN. "Guys were telling me this year, they were yelling and trying to time it. Well, there's really no reason to do that."

Woods doesn't want to ruin anyone's good time.

"As long as they don't yell on our golf swings, we're fine," he said. "They can be raucous. They are having a great time. It's fun. They are having a blast, and hopefully we can execute golf shots, but as long as they don't yell on our golf swings, everything's cool."

But they do yell during shots. They do behave inappropriately. And they do drink too much.

If the fans aren't going to control themselves, maybe golf needs to.