Backstopping is all the rage on the PGA Tour, with plenty of players working in unstated cahoots to not mark golf balls near the hole when a potential ricochet could help a friendly playing competitor.
Backstopping is horrible, and it should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
However, can we divert our attention for a second to the growing scandal that is grandstopping?
Backstopping is horrible, yeah, but so is grandstopping. This setup around 18 is absurd, like the BMW last year.
— Ryan Ballengee (@RyanBallengee) January 14, 2019
The green complex at the par-5 18th at Sony Open host Waialae Country Club in Honolulu was redone as part of a Tom Doak-led renovation, eliminating a bunker on the right back side of the green. That area off the green was reshaped to be a collection area.
With the change to the green, there was room for tournament organizers to bring in more grandstands closer to the green. The end result, though, was a peninsula of grandstands behind and around the side of the 18th green that acted like a bounce house for approach shots coming into the hole. For player after player coming into the closing hole, particularly to Sunday's back-right hole location, their shots ran just long of the green and had a friendly stopping place thanks to the large grandstand footprint. From there, players got free relief and could hit a simple pitch to a susceptible pin. The result was plenty of stress-free approaches without much worry of where the ball would stop. Going long or right wasn't much of an issue.
Get a look at how the grandstands were setup in 2018:
This is the second time in the last dozen PGA Tour events where the closing hole of a tournament had an armada of grandstands way too close to the putting surface. At the 2018 BMW Championship at Aronimink Country Club, the 18th hole had grandstands to the right of the green, projecting several players' errant shots back toward the green or swallowing them up so the player got a free drop. The positioning of the grandstand protected players from the worst possible miss on the approach shot.
Certainly PGA Tour fans who are paying to get into the covered hospitality and grandstands at the 18th hole may be willing to pay more to be closer to the competition. However, where these grandstands were positioned for these two tournaments had an impact on how the golf was played, and that shouldn't be the case if it can be avoided.