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Waste Management Phoenix Open chaos triggered 54 arrests, 211 ejections and 653 emergency calls

Thousands of fans gather around TPC Scottsdale's 16th hole at the WM Phoenix Open
One fan fell out of a grandstand at the TPC Scottsdale's 16th - Getty Images/Orlando Ramirez

This is one piece of history the Waste Management Phoenix Open will certainly not be celebrating. The PGA Tour stop, which annually breaks its own record for golf’s biggest attendance, has set a new mark in the sport for gross misbehaviour, with a remarkable 54 fans arrested and almost 300 evicted in last week’s shameful scenes.

Scottsdale police revealed the stark figures, which included 653 emergency calls, in the wake of tournament officials vowing that the event will take steps to quell the madness and with local officials warning that such drunken debauchery will not be accepted again.

The Saturday disorder was particularly pronounced resulting in the gates being shut with ticket holders waiting outside and alcohol sales being halted. Social media videos went viral of extreme drunkenness and at least one fight breaking out.

A woman who fell out of a grandstand on the infamous ‘Stadium Hole’ 16th was taken away in an ambulance and was kept in hospital overnight, while another attendee spent the night in the cells after leapfrogging the ropes bare-chested and jumping into a greenside bunker before performing ‘snow angels’ in the sand.

Through it all the players were heckled, with Zach Johnson, last year’s US Ryder Cup captain, declaring that the promoters “should be embarrassed”. Even the eventual champion, Canadian Nick Taylor, said “the bad behaviour needs to be cut out’ but after decades of the atmosphere being ramped up, he is unsure this will be possible.

“I think the cat’s probably out of the bag,” he said. “I don’t know how much they can change and I’m not sure how they would reel it back to be honest.”

The Tour stop at TPC Scottsdale is easily the best attended event in the sport but has long had the reputation of being the most un-golf like venue on the circuit. But with what was reported to be a crowd well in excess of 750,000 for the week the scenario veered from the raucous into the ugly and downright dangerous.

However, Chance Cozby, executive director of the Thunderbirds, the civic organisation that hosts the WMPO, has promised the chaos will end and that the record arrests that were almost three times as many as last year, will not be repeated.

“We are going to make changes,” he said. “There’s no time off, we have 365 days to fix this. Saturday at the WM Phoenix Open in 2024 is going to end up being a turning point for our tournament to make our event better.”

A Scottsdale councillor has turned up the heat on officials and demanded a restriction on alcohol. “The city needs to realise that we need to go back and reevaluate,” Betty Janik said. “We need to look at the amount of liquor sales. And in the long term, I think we need to evaluate how we advertise it. It is supposed to be a golf tournament, not a party with inappropriate behavior due to alcohol consumption.”

While Scottsdale mayor David Ortega added: “The Phoenix Open has an outstanding reputation and has successfully attracted millions of fans over the last 37 years to Scottsdale, without the unruly behaviour that we witnessed last week. I am confident that the Thunderbirds are committed to make necessary changes so the next Open is safe and enjoyable for all.”

Taylor is playing here in the Genesis Invitational, the $20 million tournament that starts on Thursday. Riviera enjoys large crowds, but the emphasis is traditionally more on the golf than the party. This will surely be the case this year as well, with tournament promoter Tiger Woods playing in his first official tournament in 10 months as he struggles to recover from right-leg injuries sustained in a life-threatening car crash in this city three years ago.

All eyes will be on Woods when he tees off at 9.34am local time in the company of fellow Americans Justin Thomas and Gary Woodland. It is a high-class limited field of just 70 players, including Rory McIlroy who could replace Scottie Scheffler as world No 1 on Sunday.

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