Look, these are not normal times but as uncomforable as it is to read a company agreeing to be the Official COVID-19 On-site Testing Provider Of The PGA Tour, I’m not sure this got enough play: the PGA Tour’s events will have on-site testing and results determined on site. This, instead of adding to local lab burdens, not only provides infinitely more consistency in the Tour’s ambitious screening protocals, but also reduces the uncertainty of what will happen with golf played in so many different cities.
It’s just a shame the screening with Sanford Health testing does not extend to a good number of others on-site at the first four Tour starts beginning next week. But, one step at a time.
For Immediate Release:
PGA TOUR collaborates with Sanford Health to conduct COVID-19 testing at tournaments
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FLORIDA – The PGA TOUR announced today that it has engaged Sanford Health to conduct on-site COVID-19 testing of players, caddies and essential personnel at PGA TOUR, PGA TOUR Champions and Korn Ferry Tour tournaments in the continental United States for the remainder of the season.
Starting with next week’s resumption of the PGA TOUR schedule at the Charles Schwab Challenge in Fort Worth, Texas, testing will be conducted by lab technicians who will be traveling to tournaments in one of three mobile testing units that Sanford Health is deploying across the country. Each unit, which will be manned by a driver and three technicians, will arrive the Saturday prior to the tournament to begin processing RT PCR tests. The mobile unit will remain on site through Thursday before traveling to the next closest tournament site, regardless of Tour.
“With health and safety being our No. 1 priority upon our return to competition, we are extremely pleased to partner with Sanford Health and to utilize their expertise in testing our players, caddies and personnel going forward,” said Andy Levinson, PGA TOUR Senior Vice President Tournament Administration. “Not only will Sanford Health’s mobile laboratories enable us to deliver test results in a matter of hours so that our athletes can properly prepare for competition, but they will also allow us to implement our testing program without utilizing critical resources from the communities in which we play, which was of upmost importance to us.”
Each swab collection takes less than five minutes to administer, and test results are returned typically between two and four hours, with approximately 400 individuals expected to be tested on-site each week.
“Sanford Health is honored to help ensure a safe return to play for professional golf events in the United States by offering this testing,” said Micah Aberson, Executive Vice President of Sanford Health. “We are incredibly proud of our lab technicians who will represent us at these events as well as all of our health care workers who have gone above and beyond to protect and care for our patients.”
Sanford Health also becomes a marketing partner with the designation Official COVID-19 On-site Testing Provider of the PGA TOUR. It already has an established relationship with the TOUR as title sponsor of the Sanford International, a PGA TOUR Champions event in Sioux Falls scheduled for Sept. 11-13.
European Tour Chief Keith Pelleywas on the McKellar Golf podcast and discussed a range of issues, including the possibility of a stronger PGA Tour alliance, his few informal encounters with the Premier Golf League (which he continues to characterize as essentially a hostile competitive bid) and several questions about the Ryder Cup prospects.
About 21 minutes into he discusses the weekly calls with the other major organizations in golf, says there is “definitely a will to work together” with the PGA Tour, saying the “conversations have been stronger than they’ve ever been, where that will lead I’m not sure.”
He also made news in helping the golf world zero-in on when to expect a decision regarding the 2020 Ryder Cup, telling hosts Lawrence Donegan and John Huggan to expect a decision by the end of the month.
—We at Golf Digest will commit to making the images and subjects of our golf content as well as our staff better reflect the diversity of the world around us. Both the game’s population and our own record here have been inadequate.
—We will continue to advocate for more access and affordability.
Continue, start, either would be great!
—We will increase our coverage of municipal golf—the lifeblood for attracting minority participation.
—We will support the golf industry’s collective efforts through The First Tee, in which 48 percent of participants represent minorities.
—We will promote sustainability in all its forms, because we know the ravages of climate change hit the poor and minorities the hardest.
—And we golfers promise to use our voice and influence to make gentle the life of this world.
Obviously this is a wonderful goal and a welcome pivot. Unfortunately, it’s way too late.
For decades Golf Digest has supported ideals contrary to the values pledged above. In repeatedly rewarding difficult, expensive, ridiculously-conditioned and ultra-private golf via the influential Golf Digest rankings and awards for a solid forty years, untold damage has been done to the sustainability prospects of the game.
Decades of editorial apathy and even hostility to the notion of equipment regulation or those taking stance with sustainability in mind has been partly driven by protecting commercial interests. The resulting expansion of golf’s scale, cost and environmental footprint has not made the game healthier.
The bad news for Golf Digest? Advocacy efforts highlighting the need to move in a different direction have been taken up by a variety of independent outlets that recognized long ago who had the game’s best interests at heart.
The Memorial Presented by Nationwide is curiously opting to water down one of the premier events in golf with a John Deere Classic-replacement tournament at Muirfield Village this July. But these are strange times and playing opportunities clearly take priority over optics, reason or the lack of entertainment value in watching the same course for two weeks (perhaps they will flip the nines to help differentiate the viewing experience?).
More vitally in a time of strife, suffering and pandemic, hopefully there will be a grand charitable component for local organizations that Nationwide already supports, particularly theNationwide Children’s Hospital.
In a memo sent Tuesday afternoon to players, the tour said the new event would be July 9-12 and held without spectators. The following week is the Memorial at Muirfield Village, with spectators still a possibility.
The name of the tournament was not mentioned, along with other details such as the size of the purse.
But it said the field for the first event would be 156 players, allowing the Memorial to return to its elite status as an invitational with a 120-man field.
The fill-in tournament sponsor will be Workday, which has had a topsy-turvy relationship in trying to start a Bay Area Tour stop and in serving as a temporary sponsor of the Desert Classic.
The Forecaddie hears the last-minute demise of the 2019 edition came after Workday CEO Aneel Bhusri piled on one too many last-minute requests and complained about how the event was rolled out. With the PGA Tour having another potential event and sponsor as an option and no time to find another sponsor for the Curry event, The Man Out Front hears host management company Octagon pulled the plug after not being able to meet Bhusri’s demands.
While there will be some entertainment in watching what caddies devise for stockpiling and accessing disinfectant wipes, it would just be so much better for golf if flagsticks were left in the cup and rakes were stored in maintenance yards.
Most notable among the guidelines is that while COVID-19 testing is a condition of competition, the at-home test players and caddies take before traveling is not required but rather “strongly encouraged.” Also, should a player or caddie test positive while at a tournament, they’ll receive a stipend from the Tour to cover associated costs, but only if they have taken the at-home test and tested negative. Players are, however, required to fill out daily self-screening questionnaires starting seven days prior to departing for a tournament.
“The at-home test is intended to help players avoid the unlikely situation of testing positive and be required to quarantine away from home,” said Joel Schuchmann, PGA Tour VP of communiations, when reached by Golf Digest.
So the PGA Tour’s view is that the pre-tournament test is one to prevent an inconvenient stranding, but if safety of players and those around them was the ultimate priority, I would think an all-clear test before traveling was one of the most important steps.
This hole in the “bubble” is one of several—media and spouses/partners/companions who choose to travel and stay with players are not mentioned in any of the documents as part of the testing bubble. This, combined with not requiring an all-clear test after three months away from the Tour, explains why the word “screening” has been used to date.
Seeing the description in the player resource guide only makes it that much more confounding to start the bubble arrival knowing all have already been cleared to travel to Colonial:
If only it were that convenient for the rest of the world to get a test. I digress.
The other noticeable loophole involves players being able to stay in a rental home, RV or at the “bubble” hotel with a companion not allowed at the course, but also free to roam the host city or anywhere but the golf course.
As athletes in other sports shared their support for anti-racism forces protesting within the United States, the golf world has been deliberate in chiming in. Something, Morning Read’s Alex Micelipoints out, would be irresponsible at best.
That said, as many cities are under curfew orders and the sports grapples with how to respond, some in golf have chimed in. Notably, on the sports organization front, the LPGA was the first with this statement:
There is a lot of of beauty and love in this world. I pray for equality & social justice as we all so desperately deserve that in this day and age. I pray for humanity even more because regardless of color, WE need each other to make that change. Stay safe. Love you guys ✊🏿✊🏽✊🏻 pic.twitter.com/LrFEff94IF
Black lives matter. I would want my American friends I met at U of I and across America to not be treated any different because of the color of their skin. As a president please unite your people now and give them solutions.
“It’s devastating,’’ Rich McDonough, the director of golf at Marine Park in Brooklyn, told The Post on Friday. “You’re talking about multi-million-dollars-a-year businesses that have absolutely no ability to operate, and there’s no reason whatsoever why they’re not open.’’
Mike Giordano, who operates Marine Park as the concessionaire, said he “thought initially it was going to end in a couple weeks, then it became a month now we’re into our third month.’’ “This could be a death blow to us,’’ Giordano told The Post. “Nobody has unlimited funds. You exhaust your funds as the clock keeps ticking.’’
Giordano said he’s spending $100,000 per month to maintain the golf course with no revenue coming in and — most appallingly — no communication from City Hall.
Clearly, the food and beverage end of the golf business is suffering, but so, too, is the actual playing of the game.
Edmister said Blue Heron Hills had a flurry of early play in March thanks to unusually cooperative weather, and when the one-week, state-mandated shutdown of golf facilities was lifted in early April, the golfers were back out playing, but certainly not at the numbers you’d typically see.
The continued guidelines imposed by the state on social distancing, the prohibition of cart use, which has only recently been lifted — along with the fact that some people simply aren’t comfortable leaving their homes yet — have cut deeply into the bottom line.
“The PGA of America is recommending 10- to 15-minute intervals for tee times,” Edmister said. “That hurts you at the end of the day when you might have 80 tee times and now you’re down to 40.”
In contrast, reader Gary sent me this note today, which mirrors what I’ve been seeing on social media and in conversations with golfers who have been out playing.
I live in Nassau County, Long Island and play at the public county course (Eisenhower Park. The county guidelines have tee times split 16 minutes apart. Golf is so much more enjoyable this way as the pace of play has been reduces by about 30-40 minutes. While I understand that the economics of this reduces revenue, the enjoyability factor is much greater.
He directly addressed any rumors of bankruptcy or insolvency, the government’s stance on potential 14-day quarantining come July, and conversations with sponsors.
In particular, related to the European Tour’s plan to distribute £500,000 between charities local to the tournament venues and those chose by leading players, he explained his pitch to sponsors.
“I had a conversation with one of our key partners about two or three weeks ago, and I said, ‘listen, this might not be the biggest event that you have ever done in terms of crowds and hospitality, but it will be the most important event, and it should be the most emotional event’. We are looking at golf as a platform; as a platform to give back, and we are privileged to be able to play. We think that golf is something that we have trumpeted to the government is a perfect sport to come back with.”
It’s the same four as four years ago, only in different positions this time: #8 Tiger Woods ($62.3 million combined endorsement and on-course earnings), #14 Rory McIlroy ($52 million), #25 Phil Mickelson ($40.8 million) and #52 Jordan Spieth ($27.6 million).
Though Singh did pull out voluntarily, there was a chance, according to the KFT priority rankings, he wouldn’t have ultimately qualified for the event, which begins on June 11 at Sawgrass’ Dye’s Valley Course in Ponte Vedra Beach.
The original dreamer behind a world golf tour says he’s not been in touch with the league founders since February, but hears the PGA Tour is eyeing select European Tour events to expand the current World Golf Championships.
And, this what-could-go-wrong idea:
“What I’m hearing is that the PGA Tour, against all their bylaws and governances, is talking about putting aside a $40 million pot for eight players, with $8 million for the top player,” Norman said in a recent interview. “The PGA Tour is re-tweaking their model with the PGL out there. If you’re player nine, 10, 11 or 12, I think you’d be pretty pissed off.”
Norman said he didn’t know how the PGA Tour would rank the eight players. This pot would be beyond the FedEx Cup playoff money.
As with the PGL’s concept, this idea does face the troublesome issue of who is a top player, who is a draw and how is that determined. The modern game sees more turnover than ever—thanks to those Pilates classes and plant-based diets!—and trying to pin down who qualifies as elite talent, seems like no easy task.
While the Premier Golf League founders and funders have been quiet during the pandemic, it should be noted that Saudi Arabia, of the primary financial backers, has recently put another $40 billion into their sovereign wealth fund that is one of the PGL’s confirmed sources of funding. Vivian Nereim reports for Bloomberg.
"We are cautiously optimistic that we will have spectators,'' Bodenhamer said. "I'm looking at it as glass half full. Gov. Cuomo was very encouraging about wanting to reopen sports and we're going to be respectful of what New York and Westchester County wants us to do. But we viewed those as very positive remarks.
"We feel social distancing can be done in an outdoor arena, and we know it has been the epicenter, so we will be thoughtful about what are more important issues for them. But we're starting to think about what might be possible as far as fans, volunteers, media, a number of things. We are trying to be nimble.''
in rolling out a revamped UK cluster of tournaments and a # campaign centered around European Tour events giving back, Chief Keith Pelley also suggested the times are expediting initiatives to improve their television product.
"People said when we started doing in-round interviews that it'll never work," Pelley added.
"Now they are a key component of our broadcast. To get an insight into the mind of a professional golfer during the actual moment of deciding whether he is going to hit a five or six iron is fantastic."
Pelley expects players to agree to the move and points out that none will lose European Tour cards at the end of this truncated season. "That reduces the pressure," he said.
"Once you've actually had a wireless mic on in competition and it hasn't affected you in any such way - technology has come so far that it is really, really small and won't disturb your swing - then it just becomes commonplace and a way of life."
While the economics of a fan-free event were part of the decision for one of golf’s greatest charity fundraisers, the early sponsor and guest surveying also suggested fans were not looking to party it up in the COVID-19 era.
“We’ll probably do $10 million in charitable impact in a year that more than any I can remember will be critically important,” said Peterson, who added that the JDC gave $13.8 million to 543 charities last year.
Financial considerations were part of the decision. The loss of pro-am income amounts to over $1 million, Peterson said, and all of the tournament’s corporate hospitality sponsors respectfully have said they didn’t feel comfortable participating this year.
“We had one sponsor say that 90 percent of the guests they surveyed said they wouldn’t even come if they were invited,” Peterson said. “So, all that income is gone.”
"We have a small clubhouse, small parking lot. It's very difficult to get everything established from a social distancing standpoint, including locker rooms and everything else. Our title sponsor (John Deere) has been incredibly supportive, and during this pandemic they have been very cautious with their employees. So when all those things come into play, whatever version of the tournament we put on, we wouldn't be able to pull off with fans part of it. And that's a a money losing proposition. How much money can we afford to lose? How does our reserve fund look?"
Last month, John Deere announced it was laying off more than 260 employees from its Dubuque facility with 159 employees being placed on indefinite layoff beginning June 1.
Given the PGA Tour’s huge coffers, not making up the economic difference for a tournament that has done so much contributing to the annual tour charitable fundraising seems like a headscratcher.
As Schupak’s story notes, the Deere is still going to contribute $10 million to 542 local charities this year without a tournament. So while the safety of fans is a legitimate reason for cancellation, the tournament opting to cancel over losing money is not a good look for the Tour, particularly when the difference between profit and loss was not close to a significant figure. And especially for an event that does so much for to help the Tour enjoy non-profit tax status.
The Deere’s annual contributions since the company started sponsoring in 1999:
It’s silly to think that Sheep Ranch will be anything but Bandon’s most sought after tee time throughout this year, and likely beyond, and that’s not due to its newness alone. The seaside holes are a powerful magnet, as is the uniqueness of the design and setting, with unruly grass bunkers in lieu of sand bunkers, and dead trees known as snags that look like ghostly gunslingers, dotting the property here and there. The Sheep Ranch is home to moody atmospherics unlike those of any other Bandon course.
Will design aficionados find cause to ding it? Maybe so. Some might gripe about the lack of bunkers (what, no sand to frame your tee shots?) or the cozy confines of the routing, which, compared to some of Bandon’s other courses, lessens the sense that you’re on a journey, transitioning from one world to the next. But design aficionados assessing courses can sound like art-house critics reviewing Marvel movies: out of touch with popular tastes.
The story includes this embeddable video element. For a larger version hit the link.
This at the end of Harig’s piece also got my attention:
The PGA Tour is trying to replace the John Deere for this year only and there is some consideration to having an event at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, which is at tour headquarters.
July in Ponte Vedra. That would mean the PGA Tour is hoping to go from Fort Worth, to Hilton Head, to Cromwell, Connecticut, to Detroit to Ponte Vedra(?) to Dublin, Ohio. Ambitious, to say the least.
**A PGA Tour statement:
2020 John Deere Classic canceled due to area restrictions, related concerns
Tournament set to return in 2021; PGA TOUR looks to fill July dates with another event
SILVIS, ILLINOIS and PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FLORIDA – Citing ongoing local and state-related challenges related to gathering restrictions, the John Deere Classic, title sponsor John Deere and the PGA TOUR announced today that the 2020 tournament, scheduled for July 9-12, has been canceled. It is set to return to the PGA TOUR schedule in 2021 with its 50th playing.
As a result of this decision, the PGA TOUR announced that it will fill the week vacated by the John Deere Classic with a new tournament. The TOUR will provide details in the near future on the venue and location.
“Because of the ongoing health and safety concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic, the difficult decision was made to cancel the 2020 John Deere Classic,” said tournament director Clair Peterson. “While we considered several alternatives for the Classic, this was the choice that made the most sense for our guests, the players and the Quad City community at large.”
“We understand and respect that the Quad Cities market has dynamics and challenges that prevent the playing of the John Deere Classic in 2020,” said Andy Pazder, PGA TOUR Chief Tournaments and Competitions Officer. “As we’ve seen through the years, the community support for the John Deere Classic is unwavering and I have no doubt the event will return stronger than ever in its 50th playing in 2021.”
Despite the cancellation, the John Deere Classic will continue its Birdies for Charity fundraiser for 2020. Last year, $13.8 million was generated in support of 543 local and regional charity organizations, bringing the tournament’s all-time total to $120 million since the first playing in 1971. Ninety-nine percent of that has come since John Deere assumed title sponsorship in 1998.
This year’s John Deere Classic would have been the Quad Cities’ 50th PGA TOUR event and the 21st played at TPC Deere Run. Dylan Frittelli is the defending champion.