As 2021 approaches, PGA Tour still grappling with COVID-19. Where do we stand?

The PGA Tour ends one of the strangest calendar years it has seen when the final official event of the season is played this week at the Mayakoba Golf Classic in Mexico. The unofficial QBE Shootout is next week in Florida, but the next official event won’t be until the Tour begins its annual West Coast swing at the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii Jan. 7-10.

Unfortunately for the PGA Tour, the West Coast swing is shaping up to look like most of the last seven months played during the COVID-19 pandemic. While hopes of a vaccine grow stronger every day, that vaccine won’t change much for PGA Tour events in January and February. Events will still be played without fans and under strong restrictions including testing for players, volunteers and staff. Normal still seems a long way away for the Tour and other sports.

Could things change by the end of the West Coast swing? Will April and the Masters mean fans on the golf course again? Or is it likely that things won’t return to normal until late in the summer when the vaccine has had a chance to reach more and more people. For all the promise of the vaccine, large gatherings don’t seem like they will happen for perhaps even another year.

Spectators take photos of the action on the first hole at PGA West in La Quinta during the American Express golf tournament, January 19, 2020.

Spectators take photos of the action on the first hole at PGA West in La Quinta during the American Express golf tournament, January 19, 2020.

Here are a few things we know about the Tour just one month from the top players coming back to Hawaii, Arizona and four events in California.

Fans aren’t coming back anytime soon

Three tournaments in January, including the American Express in La Quinta, have already announced their events will have no spectators. The American Express and the Farmers Insurance Open in San Diego are both governed by California’s tier systems where live sports can take place but not with fans in attendance under the most restrictive tiers. That means it is likely two other events in the state, the AT&T Pebble Beach tournament and the Genesis Open in Pacific Palisades just outside of Los Angeles, will also not be allowed to have fans. Yes, a vaccine might be coming, but tournaments need a long lead time for operational reasons, and that means there won’t be many fans at events on the West Coast.

There is always one exception

That exception on the West Coast might be the Waste Management Phoenix Open. That tournament’s very identity is based on loud and raucous fans screaming at every shot hit on the par-3 16th hole of the TPC Scottsdale. And since the tournament is in Arizona there are plans for a smaller crowd to be on the course when the tour reaches Phoenix the first week of February. That might be refreshing, but it might also cause the more cautious players to take a rain check for Phoenix until 2022.

Travel restrictions

The LPGA faced big problems throughout the year after restarting because many Asian players decided not to come back to the United States because of travel restrictions and quarantine periods that made it impossible for them to easily get back and forth to their home countries. Even world No. 1 Jin Young Ko missed three major championships including a defense of her ANA Inspiration title in Rancho Mirage. With a surge in cases in the United States and Europe, travel restrictions could get stronger and players might not be able to cross the Atlantic Ocean easily. That could actually be good news for PGA Tour events, since many European players are based in Florida and might stay in the United States. That could mean they will play some tournaments they don’t normally play on the America Tour.

Money

There is no real way to know just how much money the PGA Tour lost during the 2020 season, with tournaments canceled and rescheduled and with no fans buying tickets. The Tour has tried to keep purses at the same level, and certainly the Tour has tried to continue charitable giving from events. But the losses are great, and they might be greater on the European Tour, where financial issues might have been one of the driving forces behind the recently announced strategic alliance between the two tours. Such losses will likely continue into the new year with tournaments not having fans and perhaps even a tournament or two not being played if the numbers continue to get worse. It’s fair to say the PGA Tour would love to have things starting to get back to normal sometime in March when it returns to Florida.

Larry Bohannan is The Palm Springs (Calif.) Desert Sun golf writer. Follow him on Facebook or on Twitter at Sun.@Larry_Bohannan. 

Comments are closed.