In a memo sent to players last week, the PGA Tour outlined how it plans to ease back into the spectator business at next year’s West Coast stops, beginning with the Waste Management Phoenix Open and its “up to 8,000” fans a day. The popular tournament also plans to have a “scaled-down” version of the 16th hole, but tournament chairman Scott Jenkins cautioned in a release that, “if the decision is made by local health officials to allow spectators, it will be a small fraction of the normal capacity.”
The memo also called for “up to 500” spectators or “VIP guests” at the Genesis Invitational “pending L.A. County restrictions.”
All of this, of course, paves the way for the Tour’s spring return to Florida, where officials will likely face far fewer COVID-19 restrictions than on the West Coast.
The Arnold Palmer Invitational kicks off the Florida Swing the first week of March, followed by The Players, which is the last tournament to allow a capacity crowd before the coronavirus halted play last March. TPC Sawgrass would make the most sense for an expanded fan footprint based on the size of the property and Florida’s aggressive approach to a return to normal, but the Tour continues to take a wait-and-see approach.
“We are still waiting for final confirmation. Phoenix has gone along with fans and we understand all of the Florida swing events will as well. We’re just trying to finalize what that looks like for the PGA Tour,” said Ken Kennerly, the executive director of the Honda Classic. “We’re optimistic that we’re going to have fans, but we don’t know yet.”
Although it makes sense for the Tour to wait until after the Phoenix Open to proceed, it also makes sense that the Florida Swing would be the perfect place to begin the long march back to normal.
Last week’s Miami vs. North Carolina college football game drew 12,092 fans while the UCF-Cincinnati game in Orlando last month had a reported 10,668 fans. If the Tour goes with 25 percent capacity (the standard number used in other sports) at The Players, that would add up to about 10,000-plus fans a day at the circuit’s flagship event.
With the introduction of a COVID-19 vaccine this week and also assuming no setbacks, 10,000 fans per day seems reasonable. Still, it will almost certainly not be business as usual. Like Phoenix, officials plan to have limited infrastructure compared to normal years.
Kennerly normally begins his build out for a March tournament just after Thanksgiving. Depending on the Tour’s decision when it comes to fans, he estimates that construction is on hold until at least early January.
“It all comes down to numbers and hospitality,” he said.
In June, the Tour was one of the first major sports to return to competition, and it has largely avoided the kind of outbreaks that football and baseball have experienced. But when it comes to fans, the circuit appears entirely comfortable with the slow approach.