My indignation is parked. My hackles lie flat. I feel the way
Andrew Jackson might have felt if the British had come ashore at
New Orleans offering toast and tea instead of musket balls and
Believe me, I was ready to go to war when I first heard about
GolfWatch--the PGA Tour's new "premier class" tournament ticket.
Created to spare the Donald Trumps of the world the indignity of
shoulder-to-shoulder contact with us proles in the gallery,
GolfWatch promised "courtside seating" and "skybox luxury" to
those willing to pay $1,500 per tournament. The prospectus even
promised high rollers an exclusive walking lane inside the
gallery ropes. No more sitting for three hours in the sun to
get a good look at Nick Faldo; just stroll up with your folding
seat and cigar and perch in front of the retirees from Dubuque.
Champagne wishes, as Robin Leach used to say.
That's why, with a rush of adrenaline, I enlisted for last
week's debut of GolfWatch at the Nissan Open at the Riviera
Country Club in Los Angeles. Bravely--because I had decided to
go behind enemy lines--I wore the GolfWatch badge. I left my car
with the valet at the GolfWatch lot, and I rode the GolfWatch
shuttle up Sunset Boulevard, maintaining a poker face while
eavesdropping on the patrician chatter. ("Is this your first
time at Riviera?" "Yeah, how about you?") At the clubhouse, the
first of many attractive young women briefed us on the GolfWatch
rules. Then she led us down a steep path and explained that our
base camp would be the GolfWatch Home Pavilion, a portable
palace with a fabric roof set up near the 2nd green. Minutes
later, after scarfing down an omelette prepared by a bow-tied
chef working behind a table decorated with fern baskets and
piles of fruit, I grabbed a GolfWatch folding seat and went out
to follow Tiger Woods.
Surprise! The GolfWatch lanes conceived by Marie Antoinette
("Let them eat cake!") had been laid out by Abe Lincoln ("With
malice toward none..."). Two yards wide and restricted to one
side of a given fairway, the roped walkways evaporated at the
front edge of most greens, leaving GolfWatchers with a
respectable but hardly sinful view. No lane wrapped around a
green; no lane provided access to a tee box. On the 12th the
lane ended 80 yards from the green, on the wrong side of an
March 10, 1997
Not believing my eyes, I scurried over to the 18th hole, where
thousands traditionally watch the action from a grassy hillside
above the green. A modestly sized and nonprime piece of real
estate was roped off for GolfWatchers; GolfWatch patrons who
arrived too late to squeeze onto the greenside turf would have
to climb to the hideous Panorama Suite erected about 60 feet
above the green. From the rail of this aerie I had the view
McGarrett enjoyed from the balcony of the Ilikai Hotel during
the opening credits of Hawaii Five-O.
Clearly, my $1,500--well, somebody's $1,500--had been spent
elsewhere. A good bit of the money went into the five Skybox
Oases scattered about the course. These cocktail lounges on
stilts, with their plush carpets and cushy sofas, actually lived
up to the GolfWatch slogan: the Ultimate Spectator Experience.
Oasis B afforded a tree-house view of the 5th and the 16th
greens and was so close to the action that the bartender had to
muffle his ice cubes when golfers were putting. Oasis A,
overlooking the 1st green, offered a similar close-up. "I could
get used to this," a middle-aged beanpole said, settling into a
cushioned chair with a plate of finger food.
O.K., I said it. Satisfied that ordinary ticket holders were not
being inconvenienced by GolfWatch, I threw down my weapons and
defected. I lunched in the Pavilion, lining up brochettes of
chicken and sausage on my plate. At Oasis E, I looked up from my
newspaper to watch Fred Couples put too much juice on a pitch
and then turned again to the stock tables, popping a grape in my
mouth. I kept an eye out for celebrities--James Caan and Andrew
Shue, among others, turned up on Sunday--but mostly I looked out
for No. 1.
Last Thursday evening, before the Pavilion's combo started
playing, I did the arithmetic on a napkin: 1,000 (the number of
GolfWatch tickets available at Riviera) times $1,500 equals $1.5
million. But the expenses! Guides, waiters, bartenders,
musicians, valets, tableside magicians, hostesses--160 paid
staffers in all--plus 60 security guards to help marshals police
the spectator lanes, plus food, liquor, furniture, flowers, etc.
Little wonder that GolfWatch plans only four trial runs in 1997,
the next one coming in June at the Buick Classic in Rye, N.Y.
But as I always say, big concepts demand bold thinking. Spotting
a shoeshine chair in a corner of the Pavilion, I had my pair of
Clarks of England burnished, handed the fella a five-dollar tip
and strolled back into the afternoon sun, spurning the offer of
a cigar from the GolfWatch humidor.
I know where to draw the line.