Golf

‘It’s a lot more open’: With limited capacity, Honda Classic fans enjoying closer view of players


PALM BEACH GARDENS — Masks are in and large crowds are out at the 2021 Honda Classic.

Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, tournament organizers are conducting the typically fan-friendly event under strict health and safety protocols that include a mandatory mask mandate and fewer fans.

Thursday’s first round, played on a near 90-degree day at PGA National, reflected those changes.

With capacity limited to 10,000 fans per day, there was far less crowding around fairways, holes, concession stands or popular tournament venues such as the Bear Trap.

That was welcome news for many fans, who said they were able to get unobstructed views of the players as they walked the course.

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“It’s a lot more open,” said Jeff Forney, a Boynton Beach resident who regularly attends the Honda Classic. “You can get closer to the players this year. It’s been great.”

“There’s a little bit more elbow room, and I can visually watch the tournament more closely,” said Kathleen Theen, a part-time Juno Beach resident who waited with friends by the 18th tee to catch a glimpse of golfer Phil Mickelson. “There are fewer people here.”

Smaller crowds also made it less of a challenge for fans to get to and from the tournament, as there were no lengthy waits for buses.

“It was really easy arriving here,” said Mike Knowles, a Delray Beach resident who visited the tournament Thursday with his wife, Karen. “The buses were all here. It was really pretty simple. There was no waiting. We came here once years ago, and people were passing out while waiting for the bus because they were so hot. There were ambulances and everything.”

The tournament’s bus system was well-organized, agreed part-time Juno Beach resident Joan Shaw.

“We were socially distanced, and people were giving us good instructions coming in,” she said.

Shaw and other fans praised the health and safety protocols instituted by the tournament, which were developed in conjunction with CDC guidelines.

In addition to the mandatory mask mandate, the tournament also features enhanced sanitization protocols, social distancing enforcement — though there was some crowding around certain holes — and mobile ordering for concessions.

No handshakes, first bumps, autographs, photographs or selfies are permitted throughout the duration of the four-day tournament.

“I’m very impressed with the protocols that are in place,” said Joe Grinnelli, a part-time Jupiter resident. “From the parking lot entrance to the bus ride with the distancing to the crowd control here at the Classic, I think they’ve done a wonderful job.”

Grinnelli said he wasn’t a big fan of the mask mandate, but he would abide by the rules put in place by the tournament.

Enforcing those rules is the newly created Health and Safety Committee, which is comprised of about 100 volunteers who roam the course, along with security and law enforcement to assist in policy enforcement and spectator education.

Mary Fahey, the committee’s chair, said fans have done a good job so far of wearing their masks when not eating or drinking, though some needed “gentle” reminders.

“People don’t like to wear masks, and we just encourage them,” she said. “This is a private event, so it is a masking event and they do need to wear masks.”

Fahey said her committee will be flexible as needed during the tournament, but it remains committed to ensuring the safety of everyone who walks into PGA National this week.

“We’re here for the safety of the players,” she said. “This is their job. This is how they make money. We want to keep them safe, so they can go in and do their job and be safe. We don’t want them to get sick, we don’t want our spectators to get sick, and we don’t want the volunteers to get sick.”

Long-time volunteer Thomas Gibbs, a West Palm Beach resident who was working the 17th green Thursday morning as a course marshal, said he appreciated the efforts made by fans to abide by healthy and safety requirements.

“Everybody so far has been 99 percent following the rules and regulations,” he said.

Food and souvenir vendors said fans have been keeping their distance so far, though they expect that might become more of a challenge this weekend when bigger crowds are predicted.

Angie Sangiovanni, who sells beverages at Tito’s Bar on the 17th green, said sales started slowly Thursday morning, but she expected things to pick up later, as they typically do at the Honda Classic.

Phil Mickelson during the first round of 2021 The Honda Classic at PGA National Champion course in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

“Thursdays are slower,” she said. “We’ve been working this for 15 years, but we’re usually at The Terrace where they have all the entertainment. That’s on 9, so we see a lot of people early. Towards the first holes, it’ll be a little bit busier. It’ll get busy.”

Golfer Matt Jones, who shot a tournament record-tying 61 Thursday, said busier was better for him after months of playing without fans. The Honda Classic is one of the first tournaments since the coronavirus pandemic began to permit fans on-site.

“I think as golfers we all like to play in front of fans and be able to perform,” he said. “It gives us probably a little more adrenaline, more focus when you know they’re out watching you hit good shots. To have them back is fantastic, and hopefully it just continues to grow, and we continue to get more fans back every week.”

More fans means more energy from the crowd, Palm Beach Gardens resident Ron Roan said, and with limited capacity for this year’s Honda Classic, that energy was lacking in some spots.

“With smaller crowds, the good thing is there’s more visibility, and you can get in and out,” Roan said. “But energy is nice sometimes, with the excitement of the putts and great holes. It’s been mixed for me.”

Clem Russo, also a Palm Beach Gardens resident, seconded that.

“I prefer a non-COVID year,” he said.



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