SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Augusta National has No. 12. Pebble Beach has No. 7. TPC Sawgrass has the 17th.
All par 3s. All iconic. All a part of the lore of the game.
But for several years now, the 16th hole at TPC Scottsdale – normally an innocuous challenge – has become one of the bucket-list places in the game, for pro golfers and fans alike. And there’s really nothing like it anywhere in the game.
It was long known as the party hole at the Stadium Course, but a hole-in-one there by Tiger Woods in 1997 really ignited things. That year, fans surrounded the hole, but the thought of a triple-decker grandstand hadn’t yet materialized.
These days, it’s known as the Coliseum, a mini-stadium packed with close to 18,000 fans, all seemingly breathing down the necks of those golfers who partake in the challenge.
James Hahn interacts with fans on the 16th hole during the second round of the 2023 WM Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale in Scottsdale, Arizona. (Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
What does it feel like to walk through the tunnel? How do you handle all the noise? What about the name-calling or the singing or chanting? And is it really cool for fans to boo you when you miss the green?
James Hahn, an 11-year veteran on the PGA Tour with two career victories, has played the tournament 11 times and made the cut eight times, which means he has had 38 cracks at making an ace on the 16th hole.
During a recent media event, Hahn let Golfweek tag along for the four closing holes, Nos. 15 through 18. It’s the most exciting stretch on the Sundays of the WM Phoenix Open. Hahn provided some insight to the craziness that is the 16th hole.
'You're just trying to get your emotions in check'
Hahn insists during the tournament, he doesn’t peek ahead to 16. Not even when he’s playing the preceding hole, the par-5 15th, which is generally a golfer’s last chance to make an eagle.
But once you putt out and walk across the short bridge off 15 green, your brain gets into 16 mode.
Then comes the walk through the tunnel into the arena.
“Right about here, you’re just trying to get your emotions in check,” Hahn said, about halfway through the tunnel marked “PLAYERS ONLY.”
“Your heart starts beating, you hear the crowd, you hear the music, you hear everything that’s going on.
“And then right here (with the 16th hole hole-in-one monument front and center) is your last chance to gather yourself before you enter the stadium hole.”
Then come those first few steps out of the tunnel on the other side.
“Right about now,” he said craning his neck to look up towards the three-tiered stadium “is when all the fans start seeing your group come up. They start cheering, they start yelling, they start chanting. Some guys are happy you’re there, some guys are not. Some guys start heckling you.”
There’s no doubt, even after having played here for a decade, there’s simply nothing like this rush.
“The nerves always hit on this one. The nerves will always hit,” Hahn said, noting that “a lot of guys enjoy this type of experience and I absolutely love it.”
'Asian Brad Pitt'
The fans at 16, estimated to number north of 18,000, ring the arena stacked three levels high. Most of these are pricey tickets, sold as part of a weekly suite package, except for a few hundred spots in a general-admission section down the left side at ground level. These are the precious few seats that you’ve seen video of people racing to get in the pre-dawn hours.
“There’s a group of people, I don’t know what they call themselves but there’s a group of people, they do research on the players, on every player in the field, and they’ll bring up ex-girlfriends or ex-wives or anything that you’ve done in the past and they’ll use it to kind of heckle you when it’s your turn to hit,” Hahn said.
“I remember my rookie year I came out here and they were chanting ‘Asian Brad Pitt’ and yea, that’s a good guy to compare myself to, right?”
As much fun as it is for players and fans alike, there’s not much time before players need to zone back in.
“That was funny, but you gotta start focusing back on hitting this golf shot,” he said.
What club to hit?
The scorecard says the 16th hole is 162 yards from the back tee, but during Saturday’s third round, the Tour likes to move the tee way up to try to induce some improved hole-in-one chances.
“It’s only about 160 yards, depending on pin location. Could be a 9-iron, could be a pitching wedge, depending on how feel. I’ve hit as low as a sand wedge when the tee box is moved up,” Hahn explained. “The adrenaline gets you, but you’re counting on that adrenaline to hit an extra six to eight yards.”
Every golfer is different and some just want to keep their head down and hit. Others want to soak it all in.
“Usually when I hit, I’ll do one of these (lifts arms upwards to prompt the crowd to make noise) to get the crowd going because it’s easier to hit when there’s a lot of white noise compared to it being pretty silent and then having that one guy yell ‘Noonan!’ on your backswing,'” he said.
“We’ve all had that happen on this hole. It’s part of the experience, so I’d rather just have a lot of yelling and screaming than having it really quiet.”
In other words, a steady hum of noise is much preferred to silence interrupted by a sudden burst.
It helps to win over the crowd
“I wish every golf tournament had a hole like this,” Hahn said.
During the 2013 WM Phoenix Open, Hahn drained a 30-foot putt for birdie on the 16th hole, dropped his putter and did the dance from Gangnam Style, a music video so huge 11 years ago that the video for that song was the first YouTube video to garner a billion views.
Needless to say, Hahn won the crowd over.
“There is so much at stake when you’re about to hit that all you’re trying to do is hit it on the green and hopefully it’s a good shot where you’re close enough to make birdie. The last thing you wanna do is make a big number on this hole and get booed.”
But booing golfers isn’t cool, right, when they miss the green with their tee shots? Isn’t that uncalled for?
“No,” he said emphatically. “I love it.”
You’re saying it’s appropriate for the setting?
“Absolutely. I love it. We’re a sport. Basketball players get booed, baseball get booed. We’re golfers. I got thick skin. I’m not worried about a couple of people booing.”
Is this the best place to make an ace?
Since the Phoenix Open was first played at TPC Scottsdale in 1987, there have been roughly 14,500 tee shots on the 16th hole and only 11 holes-in-one.
Hahn does not have one of those 11 but was asked whether he’d rather ace this hole than any other hole in the world, and he actually answered the question before it was fully asked.
“This one,” he said.
“Or the seventh at Pebble?” continued the question.
What about the 12th at Augusta?
Why is that?
“You have all the fans here. You have everyone into it. Everyone wants to see you make a hole-in-one. At Pebble, there’s very few fans, limited people that are watching and then Augusta National is very formal, they’ll give you a golf clap.
“But here, you make a hole-in-one here, there’s beers flying everywhere, and everyone is high-fiving each other and you probably see a couple of guys take their shirts off.”
It’s difficult to put it into words the entire experience, but Hahn sums it up like this:
“The energy in here is electric. It’s addicting. It’s so much fun.”