Planet Golf — 26 August 2012 by Bob Sherwin
‘Canyon’ hole risk/reward – with the fans

SNOQUALMIE, Wa. – When players reach the 14th ‘Canyon’ hole at the TPC Snoqualmie Ridge course – site of this week’s Boeing Classic – they need to weigh the option of driving the green.

It’s a basic risk/reward decision, hit a 290-yard drive to a postal stamp green guarded by traps and a ravine in the back and a vast canyon in the front. Landing on the green could mean an eagle opportunity. The other option is to lay up right and wedging it close for a possible birdie.

There is one more option: The will of the people.

This is one of the few holes on any Tour where the golfers have to deal with the influence of the mobs, or rather, the gallery. Another wild hole, perhaps the wildest, would be the 16th ‘Stadium’ hole at the TPC Scottsdale Course, site of the Waste Management Open. Our site writer, Kirby Arnold, wrote about that craziness earlier this year.

 

'Canyon Club' gallery waits for golfer

Snoqualmie’s ‘Canyon’ hole is not that confined as Scottsdale’s par-3. In fact, it has changed over the years from a grandstand directly behind the tee to a grandstand in the valley, to the right of the green.

But the enthusiasm remains the same. Fans encouraged the players to go for the green – 100 percent of the time. You’ll never here the chant, ‘lay up, lay up.” No matter if the player is leading, trying to protect the lead, or catching up and trying to be cautious. Players are booed when they take the easy lay up option, even though it may be a better decision.

Another reason why the fans are so motivated for the players to challenge the green is because for every birdie, the adjacent bar is open for 10 minutes selling half-price beer.

Bernhard Langer, who won this event in 2011, asked if the crowds ever influenced him, said,  “no, I don’t think so. They tried to, but usually I’m pretty hard-headed and I do what I think is right.”

At the risk of being booed?

“You might get booed, but that’s not the first time we’ve been booed,” Langer said. “We’ve been booed in the Ryder Cup before and a few other events. I played with John Daly at Hilton Head and every time he would pull an iron out, they would boo him, which was really the right club most of the time because it’s too narrow for him to hit driver, but that’s the nature of the game.”

Langer added that, “the atmosphere is great. It gives you the opportunity to go for it and risk a miracle shot that you might make a holeinone or an eagle, or you have options of playing safe and make a birdie or par that way.”

The ‘Canyon’ hole evolved in the first year of the tournament in 2005. For the first time the crowds were within easy earshot of the golfers as they teed off, peering into the precipice. If they balked at the go-for-it the fans would give-it-to-them. There was one incident in the second year in which a local sports radio host encouraged fans on the air to snipe at Curtis Strange as he teed off the 14th, just to get a rise out of them. A couple yahoos did just that and Strange stopped after his drive for a unhealthy exchange with the pair.

The next year the grandstands were down in the valley.

 

The Golf Channel cameraman sits percariously high above the 14th green to capture the craziness at the Canyon hole.

“For the most part (it was changed) so you get the double views,” said Jill Wiggins, the Boeing Classic’s director of marketing/communications. “From down below you have the opportunity to see so clear the tee box plus the green. And we built it (grandstand below) so that you could see the 18th tee box.

“So it makes it a more well-rounded opportunity. When you’re up at the 14th tee box you see the tee shots but don’t see the results as well.”

Wiggins said there was never an attempt to promote reactions from the crowd.

“It wasn’t ever anything that was encouraged. Anything that has happened has been organic by nature,” Wiggins said. “But we do want it to be a fun experience for the people We encourage people to cheer people on and have it be a fun event.

“It’s an exciting hole just based on the layout so we wanted to showcase that. It was created to be a risk/reward hole so we want them to have a platform to see that.”

The grandstands are under a canopy, with comfortable seats and a bar within a short walk. It costs $15 extra for the ‘Canyon Club,’ that includes coverage of your first beverage. But with all the birdies on this hole, cheap booze already flows.

It was a so-so day Saturday for the greens ‘keepers’ at the 14th. Of the 78 golfers in the Boeing second round, just 32 went for the green (41 percent). The other 46 (59 percent) played it safe. The were two eagles.

 

The 14th view back up over the canyon to the tee.

“The fans here are great,” said Fred Couples, the popular Seattle hometown product. “They sit in that box and they want everyone to go for the green. They’re not going to go down 15 because there’s nothing down there. So you come to 16, so they kind of go there, and then they can go to 17 or 18. So it’s a perfect spot for the hole. It’s a great hole, yeah.”

Couples said it doesn’t matter what the fans want him to do because he does what they want regardless.

I have gone for the green every single time. Haven’t had many horrible things yet there, but I go for the green every time,” he said. “I don’t know what would happen if I laid up. If I have a lead on Sunday I might lay up, but as far as that, it’s just such a fun hole.

“For me personally, I think it’s a great hole to try and go for it. I think as a hole they say it’s give or take. I think it’s a bit brutal. I mean, I watched it on TV before I turned 50 and when I came here I thought, oh my God, you know, I was a nervous wreck because you don’t know how far it’s going to go. You’re shooting downhill, you know. You think it’s a driver because you’re hitting over a gulch, but you hit it too far and you go over the green in the hazard on the other side. And then if you come off it, you go to the right and you’re done.”

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Bob Sherwin

Bob grew up in Cleveland, an underdog city with perennial underdog teams, and that gave him an appreciation and an affinity for the grinders in golf, guys such as Rocco Mediate, Jhonattan Vegas and star-crossed John Daly. This is the 44th year for Bob as a sportswriter, the first 34 working for newspapers throughout the west, Tucson (Daily Star), San Francisco (Examiner) and Seattle (Times), and the past 10 years as a freelancer. He has covered just about every sport, including golf tournaments, Tucson Open, Bing Crosby/AT&T Pro-Am, the 1998 PGA Championship, the 2010 U.S. Senior Open, the 2010 U.S. Amateur and the annual Champions Tour Boeing Classic. He also writes articles for golf magazines. For most of his 20 years at the Seattle Times his primary beat was the Mariners. He then picked up Washington men's basketball in the winter. He also was the beat writer for the Sonics, including 1996 when they played the Bulls for the NBA title. After a lifetime hacking on public courses, he finally gave in and joined a country club in 2011, the Members Club of Aldarra near Seattle. He won't win the club championship any time soon with his 14 handicap and default-swing slice but he does have a pair of aces – 37 years apart – and in 2009 came agonizingly close to his ultimate golf goal of scoring in the 70s when he finished with an even 80. He lives in Seattle, and spends part of his winters in Marco Island, Fla.

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