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Air Capital Classic’s 17th hole ‘the place to see and be seen’ in Wichita

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Friday, June 14, 2013, at 11:29 p.m.
  • Updated Saturday, June 15, 2013, at 7:34 a.m.

Air Capital Classic

What: Air Capital Classic golf tournament

Who: 65 of the 156 players qualified for the final two rounds. The cut line was 1-under par.

Purse: $650,000 ($117,000 to winner)

When: First tee time Saturday will be at 6:57 a.m. Sunday morning’s start time TBA, with play expected to wrap up around 4 p.m.

Where: Crestview Country Club, 1000 N. 127th St. East.

Admission to the tournament is $10 per person. The public can park in the Beechcraft lot, on Central between Webb and Greenwich roads, for $5. All parking proceeds go to the Greater Wichita YMCA. One-day passes to the 17th hole grandstands cost $75. For tickets and more information, go to www.aircapclassic.com.

Looking around the double-decker grandstands of Crestview Country Club’s 17th hole, you’ll see no shortage of collared shirts.

But this is far from a white-collar event.

The Air Capital Classic’s signature hole features everything you would expect from a pro golf tournament at a country club: rustling trees, flowing libations, local businessmen and businesswomen mingling with their clients, and caddies making mad dashes to the green.

“Not everyone here comes for the tournament – most do – but a lot of people come just because this is the place to be in Wichita now,” said Nicole Bentley, sponsor hospitality chair for the 17th hole. “This is the place to see and be seen.”

If you have a ticket from one of the companies sponsoring a box in the stands, you’re entitled to free food and drink all day. At Your Service provides at least six open-bar areas in the three sections of grandstand seating, and Corporate Caterers serves up whatever snacks tickle your fancy – from cheeseburgers, pulled pork sandwiches, croissants and grilled chicken wraps to pasta salad.

“We go through so much vodka it’s not even funny,” Bentley said. “I could give you a better figure on Sunday, but it’s astronomical.”

Much of the atmosphere is common to other country clubs, with networking and buzzwords like “account management” and “marketing strategies.”

It’s far from the typical golf course atmosphere, however. Bartenders constantly pour mixed drinks with Bacardi, Jack Daniels, Smirnoff and Dewar’s. Volunteers from the Greater Wichita YMCA hold up signs saying “Lower volume, please,” whenever golfers are about to putt, a request that frequently goes unheeded.

In between groups of golfers, Don Hall of KEYN 103.7 makes announcements and plays anything from country music to Katrina & The Waves’ “Walking on Sunshine.”

He said his job is “crowd management for a bunch of drunk people.”

“It just turns into a wild party here on 17,” Hall said. “You just never know what you’re going to see.”

Last year, an anonymous streaker made an appearance at hole 17. According to Hall, the nude man ran out of the crowd across the green, looped the flag stick, and then ran down the fairway, disappearing between two houses. The whereabouts and identity of the streaker were never determined.

“People couldn’t believe it, it all happened so fast,” Hall said. “We know it wasn’t Roy Turner (the tournament director), because it didn’t look like him, but it could have been anyone else.”

A popular pastime in the stands is a phenomenon known as “caddy racing.” As golfers approach the green, the crowd eggs on each golfer’s caddy to race the approximately 116 yards to the green. People in the stands then bet on the caddies, calling which will reach the green first.

After lugging around bags that can weigh 30 to 40 pounds in the 90-degree heat for 16 holes, racing for these caddies can be slightly tiring, Hall said, but most do it for the crowd’s enjoyment.

“You’ll see caddies tackling other caddies just to get up the hill,” Hall said. “Their clubs, head covers, water bottles, all sorts of stuff falls out.”

The hole also has been known as the “cheeseburger hole” for years, because if golfers get a birdie on this par-3, Walt’s Great American Sports Bar and Grill gives coupons for free cheeseburgers to everyone in the stands. If a golfer makes a hole in one, his caddy receives $1,000, which Hall said has not happened since he’s been there.

Needless to say, the noise from this party can be heard up to three holes away.

But despite its nontraditional atmosphere, the golfers don’t seem to mind too much.

“It’s been called the best hole on the Web.com tour, and that comes from the players,” Turner said. “The golfers get more out of it than anything else.”

Kevin Tway, who is among the tournament leaders, said he enjoys playing the hole.

“Just today, I was trying to block all the other people’s caddies from getting to the green,” Tway said.

His caddy won.

He said he doesn’t mind the chatter while he’s putting, because he expects it.

“It’s almost worse when they yell to be quiet instead of just letting them talk,” Tway said.

The stands at the end of the par-3 hole can hold up to 3,000 people, Turner said, and it takes a few weeks to assemble them. Volunteers meet once every month, and by the last three weeks, they “live here,” according to Bentley.

Once the tournament starts, it’s a near-constant flow of people bustling in and about the hole.

“It’s a big undertaking, throwing the party everyone wants to come to,” Bentley said. “Organizing it creates headaches.”

If people in the stands aren’t careful, come tomorrow they, too, may have “created headaches” of their own; however, people seemed to be enjoying themselves in the stands, cheering at made putts and generally being raucous.

“It’s a first-class place to enjoy a round of golf,” said Shawn Early, unit sales manager at PepsiCo. “If there’s a Kentucky Derby of the Web.com Tour, this is it. It doesn’t get better than this.”

Reach Matt Riedl at 316-269-6791 or mriedl@wichitaeagle.com.

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