FORT WORTH, Texas — The sounds of silence were supposed to be deafening this week at Colonial Country Club.
The sounds of crickets figured to be all the players would hear while competing in the Charles Schwab Challenge, the first of the four PGA Tour events on the revised COVID-19 schedule to be played without spectators.
But what were those sounds that could be heard from one corner of Colonial, applause and cheering of players and even an announcer on a speaker introducing players as they walked to the 16th tee?
Who said there would be no spectators this week at Colonial?
Not Pat Henggeler, whose house overlooks the 15th green and 16th tee on the golf course.
Henggeler, as a Colonial member with a 9 handicap who’s known in these parts to put together a good party or two at his house during Colonial week, has created the only party in town for the Charles Schwab Challenge this week.
On Monday, he had a grandstand erected adjacent to his house that offers bird’s-eye views of the 15th green and 16th tee. If you’ve been watching the CBS telecast of the tournament and you’ve heard an occasional burst of applause, it’s coming from Henggeler’s grandstand.
In what was always going to be a bizarre week for the players with the golf course eerily quiet sans spectators, Henggeler’s pop-up party has been as much a welcome oasis for them as it has been for the 100 or so people who’ve been cooling off with refreshments from Henggeler’s outdoor bar.
One of the accidental-tourist stars to Henggeler’s show has been Mason Michell, who organically became the unofficial announcer.
“Mason did a really good job at it and we were like, ‘That’s our guy,’ ’’ Henggeler said.
So Michell, equipped with a cheat sheet he creates with facts on each player, booms out introductions as each reaches the 16th tee.
The highlight of the week so far was when Michell, acknowledging the new bulked-up Bryson DeChambeau, introduced him on Friday as if he was a boxer entering the ring for a heavyweight bout.
“I thought it was amazing what they did, saying I was coming in at 300 or whatever pounds, that was funny,’’ DeChambeau said. “I really enjoyed that. It’s fun to have people rooting for you every once in a while out there. We don’t get that very much right now.’’
Michell, who just graduated Texas A&M about to start work as an accountant, said, “I’m not trying to say anything controversial or anything. We want the players to come back and enjoy coming here. Phil [Mickelson] got a kick out of us when we were talking about how he hits bombs. He enjoyed that.’’
When 54-hole leader Xander Schauffele drained his birdie putt on the 15th green to get to 13-under and tie Jordan Spieth for the lead at the time, a burst of applause could be heard in the background from Henggeler’s grandstand, and CBS announcer Jim Nantz said to his partner, Nick Faldo: “Remember what crowd noise used to sound like, Nick?’’
Earlier, during my visit, the first intro I heard was:
“Coming to the 16th green is the 2017 winner of the Colonial, Kevin Kisner,’’ Michell’s voice bellowed over the loudspeaker with a good dose of pro-wrestling embellishment. “And with him is ‘Mr. 58’ and former U.S. Open winner, Jiiiiim Fuuuuryk.’’
During my visit to the party, every single player acknowledged the love and attention.
“I think maybe they’re starving for fans, too,’’ Henggeler said.
“By the time they get here, you can tell the players have gone 15 holes and they haven’t seen a soul but their caddie,’’ John Eckelbarger, who works for Henggeler, said. “Then they get here and there are 100 people cheering them on.’’
This was a labor of love for Henggeler, who estimated he spent nearly $20,000 for the set-up, which includes the covered grandstand, large-screen TVs, fans to combat the 100-degree temps, a bartender, booze, food and portable toilets.
Henggeler does not charge money for admission. The people there are friends, co-workers and neighbors, some of whom have offered donations which Henggeler said he plans to give to charity.
The only negative to the program, a far as I was concerned, was the complete lack of social distancing among the people who were there. There, too, was no sign of a face covering on anyone — other than myself — during my visit.
Apparently, when it comes to face coverings, Texas has not gotten the memo on masks.
“I don’t think about it at all,’’ Henggeler said when asked about any concern having 100 people so close to each other in the middle of a pandemic. “At our restaurant (they own a Mexican place in Arlington), we’ve served 30,000 people since May 1. I’m not a scientist.’’
He doesn’t play one on TV, either.
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