Here is what we know for sure about the 2021 American Express PGA Tour event in La Quinta: The tournament will be played.
As for all the other things about the 62nd version of the desert’s tour event, well, we’ll still have to wait and see.
Encouraged by recent professional golf events successfully played in California, like the PGA Championship in San Francisco in August, the PGA Tour’s Safeway Open in Napa in September and the LPGA’s ANA Inspiration in Rancho Mirage in September, officials of the American Express are confident that they can meet the COVID-19 protocols set for by the state and county for the event to be played.
But with just over three months remaining before the tournament is scheduled for Jan. 21-24 at three courses in La Quinta, the pandemic has some things in limbo for now.
“I think the biggest thing is just working with the tournament stakeholders to formalize our plan on a safe event that is compliant with state and county regulations,” said Pat McCabe, tournament director for the American Express.
While plenty about the tournament or any sports event in California, remains fluid, here are a few things that we can say for certain:
If the event was played today, there would be no fans:
Riverside County is in the red tier for reopening, and one of the protocols for that tier is that live sports can be played, but with no spectators on site. For now, that is completely out of the hands of the PGA Tour and American Express organizers. Certainly there is hope that the county will move to a less-restrictive tier and that could slightly open the door for some fans. For now, spectators won’t be on site.
Stevie Nicks played on a Friday night at the American Express event in 2019.
No fans likely dooms the concert series for the year:
Last year the tournament sold $50 tickets that included entrance to the golf courses and an evening concert on the PGA West driving range. On Friday, that ticket allowed you to see rocker Stevie Nicks in concert, and on Saturday it was country star Luke Bryan. Between 18,000 and 20,000 people showed up each day, which is certainly the kind of gathering the county would not like during a pandemic. Again, it is only October and perhaps limitations of large crowds will change by November or December. But there is a long lead time to make a concert work, and the pandemic isn’t helping.
The pro-am of the event is more likely to happen than not:
The tour is back in the pro-am business, with a pro-am played last week at the Sanderson Farms tournament in Mississippi and again this week at the Shriners Hospital event in Las Vegas. The pro-am at the American Express is at the very heart of the character of the desert tournament, with 156 pros playing alongside 156 amateurs for the first three days of the event. The PGA Tour, which has been back playing since June and which has had relatively few incidents of COVID-19 positive tests after a shaky first month, has figured out a plan that gets pros and amateurs on the course.
Andrew Landry walks off the 18th green with son Brooks after winning The American Express golf tournament on the Stadium course at PGA West. Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports
There will be protocols, of course:
The PGA Tour lost a player in at the Las Vegas tournament this week when Tony Finau tested positive for the coronavirus. As many precautions as the tour and its events are taking, it still happens. That’s why you’ll see protocols like virus testing and temperature checks. And that will extend beyond the pros and amateurs playing in the tournament. The limited media who will cover the event will be tested in some way, as will the small number of volunteers who will still be needed to conduct the event. And much like the ANA Inspiration last month, fans will likely be told they can watch the golf from their backyards, as long as they don’t follow a player from hole to hole.
Again, all of this is what we have a grip on now. Things change pretty fast in the COVID-19 world, but American Express officials can take comfort in the fact that even if the county reverts to the more-restrictive purple tier from the current red tier, the ANA Inspiration managed to play with the county in the purple tier and pulled off a pretty interesting tournament.
Nothing is certain these days. But desert golf fans should still be expecting, at the very least, to be able to watch the American Express tournament on television in January.
Larry Bohannan is golf writer at The Desert Sun in Palm Springs, Calif., part of the USA Today Network. He can be reached at (760) 778-4633 or email@example.com. Follow him on Facebook or on Twitter at Sun.@Larry_Bohannan.