Next week’s Memorial Tournament was set to become the first major U.S. sporting event to host fans since the COVID-19 virus rode in from China.
But all that has changed. The PGA Tour has reversed course and will no longer allow spectators at next week’s event in Dublin, Ohio.
According to a PGA Tour press release, the decision was made due to “the rapidly changing dynamics of the COVID-19 pandemic.” Sources, however, say the change was mostly attributed to concerns from players, all of whom currently live in a virtual bubble that has been described “as the safest place in America.”
It was just about one month ago that tournament officials excitedly announced an approval by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine which would allow Muirfield Village Golf Club to host up to 8,000 spectators per day.
While it was a limited number of fans – reportedly 20 percent of the venue’s normal capacity, it seemed like a good first step on the path to normalcy. Fans were expected to follow strict safety guidelines and protocols (e.g. mandatory masks, temperature readings at entrances, limited on-site media, sanitation stations, one-way foot traffic, and more).
Instead, Muirfield Village will host back-to-back fan-free events, starting this week with the new Workday Charity Open (which replaces the John Deere Classic), followed by the high-profile Memorial Tournament next week.
“The Memorial Tournament team, led by Dan Sullivan, worked exhaustively on a plan that the Governor of Ohio, Mike DeWine, as well as other local, county and state leaders were comfortable with, confident in, and applauded,” said tournament host Jack Nicklaus.
“We had a good plan in place, and I could not be more proud of everyone who contributed to it. In the end, we have the responsibility to recognize the health and safety of the players and all who attend the Memorial Tournament.
“We, in partnership with Nationwide and the PGA Tour, will now focus on presenting the best-possible Memorial Tournament we can for the players and for the many fans watching at home and around the world on Golf Channel and CBS.”
Following two weeks in Ohio, the Tour travels to Minnesota for the 3M Open, where state and local officials have already denied an appeal by tournament officials to host small galleries of fans at TPC Twin Cities.
Additionally, the PGA Championship (Aug. 6-9) recently announced that the season’s first major will be contested without a single fan present after the city of San Francisco denied its permit.
The WGC-FedEx St Jude Invitational in Memphis, and its opposite-field sister event in California, the Barracuda, will be contested the week of July 30-Aug. 2, which precedes the PGA. No official announcement has been made either way, but we are told that there is “no chance” that fans will be allowed at either event, especially the week before the first major.
“Could you imagine if we allow fans for the first time and some of the marquee names test positive the week leading into the first major?” said the Tour official. “It’d be a news-cycle nightmare.”
Additionally, the source told Pro Golf Weekly that a decision has already been made to go fan-free for the remainder of the season, right through the playoffs.
“After we leave Ohio, there are just seven weeks remaining in the season,” said the source, a longtime PGA Tour employee. “We feel the Return to Golf has been a huge success thus far, and it wouldn’t make sense to jeopardize it all in order to boast that we hosted a few thousand fans at one or two events.”
According to the source, “everything will be reevaluated” following the Tour Championship at East Lake in early September.