Camped in folding chairs at the base of the grandstand and shaded by a blue-and-white umbrella, Rachel Valis and Ann Hurst sipped lagers and fanned themselves with Marathon Classic event programs.
When it seemed as if the LPGA tournament was going to take on the typical air of a golf tournament, the chants began.
“Caddie race! Caddie race! Caddie race!”
Suddenly, a mad dash broke out on the fairway between three caddies who toted clubs and bags for the world’s top female golfers. After the first caddie crossed the line, lugging a bag, it became official: “Club 14” was open for business.
“We’ve heard this was the party hole,” said Valis, a Perrysburg resident. “I wanted to see what this place was all about.”
The reputation of the 14th hole at the Marathon Classic already precedes itself. While the temperature soared and the cheers got louder, the beer stayed cold. And the women of the LPGA and their caddies experienced the lighter side of the tournament Friday at the 14th hole.
Last year it was dubbed “Friday at the Farr,” in honor of Jamie Farr, a Toledo native and the actor who was the tournament’s previous namesake. As the tournament rebranded itself as the Marathon Classic, the 14th hole at Highland Meadows Golf Club was one of many holdovers.
It’s modeled after the 16th hole at the PGA’s Phoenix Open - which the New York Times described earlier this year as golf’s “Fraternity Row, the choker chain of humanity that wraps around No. 16,” - a par-3 hole surrounded by skyboxes and bleachers that take on more of a football atmosphere than a ceremonial mood.
Like No. 16 at TPC Scottsdale, the 14th Hole at Highland Meadows is also a par-3. And while it doesn’t have frat boys or keg stands, it has its share of a ruckus not necessarily associated with golf.
Hence its nickname this weekend: “Club 14.”
“I’m from Phoenix, and found out about this, so I said, ‘we’ve got to check this out,” said Hurst, a Perrysburg resident.
On a make-or-break day when the tournament field is whittled to about half its size, many welcomed the rambunctious retreat.
“I think most of us out here enjoy the enthusiasm and more of the liveliness on the golf course,” said Rebecca Lee-Bentham, who shot a 73 on the tournament’s second day. “I think that the LPGA tour may not get as many spectators as the PGA tour, so when we have a crowd like that, I think we get more excited.”
Golfers respond in kind.
Friday afternoon, Natalie Gulbis made par on the 14th hole, then took her first steps toward the grandstands. She tossed a golf ball into the stands - it’s customary for golfers at the 14th hole to give offerings to spectators in the grandstands - then someone asked for an autograph. A fan in the stands lowered an enlarged cut-out of Gulbis’ head, attached to a yardstick.
Without hesitation, Gulbis affixed her John Hancock.
“I think most players enjoy that,” said Lee-Bentham, who tossed golf balls into the stands as she departed the 14th hole greens. “As long as [spectators] don’t disrespect us, like screaming during our backswings or something like that, if they’re cheering us on, I think it really helps us get our adrenaline going.”
The party began late in the morning, when the temperature rose above 90 and Australian golfer Katherine Hull-Kirk made a hole-in-one with a 5-iron, winning a Kia Cadenza.
Later in the morning, volunteer marshals held up vertical signs that read “QUIET” as Michelle Wie lined up to putt and after her putter struck the ball, someone shouted the obligatory golf-tournament directive.
“Get in the hole!”
Just before noon, Paula Creamer, Inbee Park and Angela Stanford teed off at the opposite end of the fairway. As the trio and their caddies began the walk to the green, the chant began.
“Caddie race! Caddie race! Caddie race!”
And the foot race from the middle of the fairway ensued. Carrying a bag that weighs at least 40 pounds, Inbee Park’s caddie was the first to cross the green. A few seconds later, Creamer, Stanford and Park continued to giggle as Park’s caddie wiped his face with the back of his arm.
While Creamer and Park made par, Stanford bogied the hole, and as she and her caddie packed up their bag and prepared to walk to the 15th hole, spectators flocked ... to the beer tent.
“We’ve sold more beer than water so far,” said Brooke Olson, who was part of a volunteer contingent from Itaalk, a Toledo-based charity she co-founded with Tammy Eisenreich that provides interactive technology to children with autism. “We were told, ‘if you guys get the 14th hole, that’s great! That’s the party tent!’ It’s a great way for the public to know that [golf] is not a stuffy sport.”
After Jane Rah, Sydney Michaels and Numa Gulyanamitta departed the hole to some fanfare, Valis and Hurst got some respite. A vendor handed them a bag of ice.
Their cups were half-full, but the beer tent was less than 50 yards away.
“Beer,” Valis said, with a wry smile, “benefits anything.”
Contact Rachel Lenzi at: email@example.com, 419-724-6510 or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.