Controversial Big Blue Wall won’t be part of ANA Inspiration this year

Larry Bohannan, Palm Springs Desert Sun
·5 min read

What was the most controversial thing about golf in 2020?

Was it Bryson DeChambeau’s bulked-up approach to winning the U.S. Open? Was it the cancellation of events like the British Open and the Ryder Cup? Was it a Masters in November?

What about the Big Blue Wall?

You remember the Big Blue Wall. If you remember the 2020 ANA Inspiration was played in September after a postponement from April and played with no spectators under COVID-19 restrictions, then you remember the Big Blue Wall.

Built to replicate a wall at the front of a hospitality tent traditionally on the back and left of the island green on the par-5 18th hole of the Dinah Shore Tournament Course at Mission Hills Country Club, the Big Blue Wall kind of took the concept of the traditional backstop and went over the top with it. It was big, it was blue and the critics of the wall were numerous and loud.

We know now the 2021 ANA Inspiration in April will again be played with no spectators and no need for the 18th hole hospitality tent. But this time, the LPGA major will be played without the Big Blue Wall.

“No, we learned from last year,” said Alyssa Randolph, the tournament manager. “We have more time to really get together all of our branding pieces and celebrate the 50th anniversary.”

So what was the issue with the Big Blue Wall anyway? For years now, golfers trying to go for the island green in two shots – when the tees on the hole are played up to 485 yards rather than 535 yards – could use the hospitality tent as a backstop.

A shot with a hybrid or a fairway wood coming hot into the green to the left side of the massive putting surface could just bounce off the bottom of the tent, or lodge against the tent leading to a free drop rather the skittering through the green and into the lake at the back of the island. The eagle chip was hardly easy, but it could set up a birdie putt

Such a concept is certainly not new to golf, not even to a tournament in the desert. For the last few years it hosted the American Express, Bermuda Dunes Country Club had a grandstand behind the green of the par-5 18th that served basically the same purpose. Run through the green in 2, hit the grandstand, get a free drop.

Critics hated it, golfers were split

But the Big Blue Wall inspired more talk and more criticism than other such backstops. For one, it was, well, blue. It was impossible to miss, maybe even from the International Space Station. Second, it was wider than the hospitality tent backstop. Third, it seemed to be much closer to the actual putting surface than the hospitality tent wall. Finally, even if a hospitality tent is artificial on a golf course, the Big Blue Wall was definitely artificial.

Among the players, some hated the wall, some didn’t seem to have a problem with it. But it did seem to change the strategy of the hole, all but eliminating the possibility of a hot shot bounding through the green and into the water. There was still danger on the second shot, but not from the water behind the green.

When Mirim Lee hit her second shot against the wall on the last hole of regulation, it set up an eagle chip that Lee holed. That was enough to push her into a playoff with Nelly Korda and Brooke Henderson, and Lee won the playoff on the same hole.

For some, it showed the wall did its job. For others, it showed the wall altered the play of the hole too much.

So, will there be a substitute for the Big Blue Wall in 2021?

“We won’t be building anything on the island,” Randolph said. “We’ll turned back to its 1972 roots and its purest state as an island green.”

Tournament officials did say that the minute they are allowed to have spectators again, the hospitality tent will indeed return.

An aerial view of the blue wall behind the 18th green at the ANA Inspiration during a Golf Channel broadcast. (Beth Ann Nichols/Golfweek)

Will the lack of a Big Blue Wall make the hole more exciting with the possibility of more balls in the water behind the green, or will it make the hole more boring with players laying up and hitting wedges for their third shot? Both strategies can still lead to excitement, as Karrie Webb’s holed wedge for an eagle-3 proved in 2006 and Brittany Lincicome’s hybrid second shot curling around the green to just two feet for a winning eagle showed in 2009.

As the 2021 ANA Inspiration gets closer and closer, the memory of the Big Blue Wall will begin to fade. For now, we can ask if the wall was a massive mistake or simply a misunderstood attempt to bring some normalcy to the event.

Or maybe it would have been better if it had just been green?

Larry Bohannan is The Desert Sun golf writer. He can be reached at (760) 778-4633 or larry.bohannan@desertsun.com. Follow him on Facebook or on Twitter at @Larry_Bohannan. Support local journalism: Subscribe to the Desert Sun.

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