The Memorial Tournament, founded by Jack Nicklaus at a course he designed, is forging ahead with plans to be the first PGA Tour event to have spectators amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The tournament was given the green light a few weeks ago by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, who approved a proposal to allow up to 8,000 spectators per day with various social distancing guidelines, no grandstands and masks to be worn upon entry.
The recent spike in coronavirus cases across the country, along with some concern over three positive cases this week at the Travelers Championship, did not deter HNS Sports Group executive director Dan Sullivan.
“It reminds us we have to make sure we do it right,” Sullivan said in an interview. “A lot of people are very confident in the plan we have put together — the governor, state of Ohio, health officials. But it reminds us we have to follow the plan. Nothing has really given us pause. It’s given us the reality that every day means we have to refine the plan.
“And it starts with us communicating to our patrons who will come here that we need their cooperation and willingness to accept protocols that will be in place. And we need to continue to deliver that message. We have confidence in the way we plan to execute our event and believe it will be a nice week people will enjoy. There may be the possibility of the virus being transmitted, but that is happening every day in normal life. It can happen wherever.”
Sullivan said the tournament, scheduled for July 16-19, will not have shuttles to bring spectators to the course, but instead will utilize nearby parking lots. He is stressing that anyone with symptoms of any kind should stay home.
Once at the entrance, thermal readings will be recorded, along with a health questionnaire. Fans will be required to wear a mask — they will be given one if they don’t have one — upon entry and then expected to “use common sense” while on the course in wearing them around other spectators and in groups.
“Obviously we are asking them to keep separated from people they don’t know,” Sullivan said. “To take advantage of all of the sanitization methods. Concessions will be ‘down the line’ and credit card only. And we’ve thought through every aspect of it.”
At concession areas, spectators will be separated by 6 feet, will be expected to wear a mask and will only purchase packaged items.
Nationwide, the tournament’s presenting sponsor, will have two hospitality venues on the course that “will be managed very much like a restaurant,” Sullivan said. “We have 50% capacity in Ohio and so only a certain number will be allowed in at any time and they are permitted to stay for a period of time and then asked to leave so others can come in.”
The Memorial will also be the first tournament to have a pro-am, limited to just 27 groups with a pro and three amateurs. There won’t be a traditional pro-am pairings party. Pro-ams are one of local organizing groups biggest revenue sources, but so far other tournaments have not been allowed to have them.
“We have the luxury of space and we will ask them to distance on the golf course as they enjoy the round,” Sullivan said.
There will also be limited spectators allowed for the practice rounds on Tuesday and Wednesday, but the Muirfield Village Golf Club course will be closed on Monday to allow for a maintenance day as the course will host another PGA Tour event the week prior.
The Workday Charity Open is taking the place of the John Deere Classic, which elected to cancel this year due to the costs of running an event without spectators.
And that meant an extra event for Sullivan and his team to run from an operational standpoint. The Workday tournament will have a different look and feel than the Memorial, which is a 120-player invitational.
“Everything’s different,” Sullivan said. “We are looking at each event separately, compartmentalizing what has to happen from an operations standpoint while also making sure all the protocols are in place to assure everything is safe. Our team is working constantly with the PGA Tour, vendors, volunteers to make sure we feel like we are covering everything. There is constant movement, and things are changing every single day.”
The Workday event, which is July 9-12, is just two weeks away.