Can it really be one year ago when we looked at our television screens during the first round of The Players Championship and thought, gee, maybe all of those fans shouldn’t be on the course?
By the end of the day, PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan had announced not only that the remaining days of The Players Championship had been canceled, but the Tour itself would be taking a break while the country, indeed the world, tried to figure out COVID-19 and just what a pandemic means. It was the men’s tour catching up to the LPGA, which had canceled tournaments a month earlier on that tour’s swing through Asia.
Since then, we’ve seen professional and even recreational golf shut down, then reopened with restrictions. The PGA Tour returned in June, but with no fans. Now, as the Tour works its way back to the one-year anniversary of the pandemic, fans are back at the tournaments in Florida.
But for all the vaccination news and the feeling that the numbers are trending in the right direction for the country, golf is still feeling the pinch of the pandemic. And for some tournaments, they are getting hit by the COVID-19 world for the second time.
Consider that the RBC Canadian Open on the PGA Tour has been canceled for the second consecutive year because of the pandemic and the continuing travel restrictions in Canada. One cancellation for an event is bad, but two can be disastrous. The PGA Tour will scramble to fill the June dates, something the LPGA has been doing for months.
Speaking of the LPGA, the ANA Inspiration in Rancho Mirage, the first major championship of the year, has already announced it will be played for the second year in a row without fans. At least this year the event will be played in April, not in the heat of September. Even though Riverside County is going to allow sporting events to have spectators in a limited capacity starting April 1, the first day of the ANA Inspiration, the tournament is not going to open that gates.
With less than three weeks to the event, it’s almost impossible to make plans for the fans’ return now, and that will be particularly true if the county stays in the restrictive purple tier for another week.
Still fewer fans than normal at tournaments
The week after the ANA Inspiration will be the Masters, and that tournament returns to its April dates after a November playing in 2020. But the event will have limited fans, which is better than no fans in November but still not what fans hope for from the Augusta tournament. We want to hear massive roars on the back nine Sunday at the Masters, and limited fans means limited volume on the roars.
Yes, the pandemic seems to be receding. Fans are going to be allowed back into Major League Baseball parks, the PGA Tour is already letting fans back on the course and more and more businesses are reopening.
But the pandemic remains a real thing, unfortunately. In the Coachella Valley the Coachella music festival was canceled last year and has already been postponed this year. The desert’s professional tennis tournament, the BNP Paribas Open, has followed that same path, canceled in 2020 and postponed in 2021 with some hope the event could be held later in the year.
When the world will get back to normal is anyone’s guess, since it seems no one has a good definition of exactly what normal is any more. Much of that will depend on how the numbers trend in areas like Florida and Texas, states that are allowing fans at sports events. But it is a safe bet that more and more states will allow more and more fans at sporting events in the coming months, and that we will see fewer and fewer incidents like the Canadian Open being canceled or tournaments being postponed and rescheduled.
For now, we must keep living with the lingering impacts of the pandemic one year after the last time we saw full grandstands at the 2020 Players Championship.
Perhaps by 2022, the world will be right again and golf and other sports will have full grandstands of full-throated fans again.
Larry Bohannan is the golf writer for the Palm Springs (California) Desert Sun, part of the USA Today Network. He can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Facebook or on Twitter at @Larry_Bohannan.