The Biggest Crowds in Golf History
This article first appeared on Golfshake.com in Jan 2020
Its atmosphere may be raucous and divisive, but there is no question that the Waste Management Phoenix Open draws a staggering number of people to TPC Scottsdale each year. This event has become synonymous for its stadium par three 16th, a Colosseum type enclosure that houses over 20,000 spectators – and the huge crowds that routinely break its own records.
The 2018 edition, won by Gary Woodland, reported attendances of 719,179 for the entire week, including an overwhelming 216,818 on the Saturday. Needless to say, that registers as the highest number of people officially through the gates for a golf tournament anywhere in history.
Essentially a massive garden party spread across the acreage of a golf course, the inebriated shouts and chants from the crowd don’t sit especially well with purists of the game, but there is no doubt that it makes the Phoenix Open distinctive.
However, it got us thinking of how this ocean of humanity that crams into Scottsdale contrasts with other events on tour.
Attendance records can be somewhat contentious, as tournaments look for whatever method they can to enhance their image, whether that simply be counting tickets sold, including hospitality attendees, or throwing by in complimentary spectators. You also have the fact that in decades past, crowds were harder to accurately gauge, or that organizers didn’t even bother counting them.
When you think of massed galleries, the major championships spring instantly to mind. Now, Augusta National doesn’t release attendance numbers for the Masters each April – they must not feel the need to boast – but it’s estimated that the fans (or patrons) are numbered between 35,000 and 45,000 on tournament days – just a smidgen lower than Saturday at Phoenix. For those counting, that’s 81% fewer to be precise.
The 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black – which had a typically boisterous Long Island atmosphere – was reported to have drawn approximately 290,000 fans throughout the week, a total that was narrowly surpassed by the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines in California, where Tiger Woods dramatically won his 14th title in front of a weekly crowd of 295,000.
As for the PGA Championship – which often feels like a money making exercise – the PGA of America prefer to report on overall revenue made through ticket sales and hospitality, a record they noted was set in 2015 at Whistling Straits, but the 2018 Championship – the 100th PGA – at Bellerive in St Louis had visibly drawn incredible, sellout crowds, including 35,000 for the Tuesday practice round – setting a weekly total that stunned players and observers alike.
Golf’s oldest major continues to set fresh standards, as 2019’s Open at Royal Portrush underlined. The Championship’s historic return to Northern Ireland after 68 years welcomed 237,750 spectators for the week, just short of the record 239,000 who ventured to the Auld Grey Toun for the 2000 Open at St Andrews.
The 2017 Open at Royal Birkdale drew a crowd of 235,000, a highest reported for any Championship in England. The 2015 Open at St Andrews attracted 237,000 to Fife, with those figures expected to be surpassed for the 2021 Open at the Old Course, the 150th playing of the game’s most prestigious event.
For the PGA Tour, the Players Championship is the flagship event, but that falls behind the above in terms of capacity. The record for the week stands at 173,946, elevated by an impressive 36,130 fans who witnessed the drama of Sunday.
But when it comes to engaging the world of sport, nothing compares to the Ryder Cup, which is commonly sold out. Most recently, there were 51,000 tickets available for the competitive days of the 2018 Matches at Le Golf National, which doesn’t account for the thousands who crammed in for the practice rounds. The biennial contest between Europe and the United States is huge, but still, it pales by comparison to the Phoenix Open.
As the game further develops its hospitality offerings and overall fan experience ventures, the biggest events continue to be a huge draw with the public, even if at TPC Scottsdale, where it’s less about the golf and more about the party.