When Adam Long arrived at Memorial Park on Thursday morning, he was taken aback. There was a throng of fans milling around the course.
“I was like, What’s going on? I’d completely forgotten,” Long said.
Ah, yes, this week’s Vivint Houston Open is welcoming up to 2,000 fans a day, the first U.S.-based PGA Tour event in nearly eight months to have spectators on property. The plan, approved by local and state health officials, calls for fans to wear masks at all times and pass a health screening at the club entrance.
“It’s nice, it gets you excited a little bit, gets you fired up,” said Long, who opened with a 2-under 68. “It’s nice to hear some claps out here when you’re fortunate enough to hit a good shot.”
Silence has been the soundtrack to tournament play ever since the Tour went on hiatus following the cancelation of the Players Championship. Other than the lack of grandstands ringing the closing holes, most awkward has been the first-tee introductions, which have usually been accompanied by only a smattering of applause from nearby volunteers.
“When they said my name on the first tee, it was cool to have some people kind of cheer,” Tony Finau said. “It’s been a while since I’ve heard that.”
Both the PGA Championship and U.S. Open were played without spectators, and next week’s Masters will also not have any fans on-site as COVID-19 case numbers continue to surge across the country. But roughly 500 spectators a day attended last week’s Bermuda Championship, and the Tour is viewing the Houston Open as a test case for bringing back fans in greater numbers and at more tournaments in the first quarter of 2021.
“I think we have to see,” said Jordan Spieth, a member of the PGA Tour’s policy board. “It certainly felt more normal as we were playing today, and especially we were finishing up, just the look of it is way more normal than when it was just so bare.
“Obviously, if we’re able to do it safely, that’s a huge win for the tournaments and the Tour, so hopefully it continues to go well like it did this morning.”