USA TODAY US Edition

A lim­ited num­ber of fans will at­tend the PGA Tour event

- Ju­li­aKate E. Culpep­per Sports · Golf · Infectious Diseases · Health Conditions · PGA Tour · Championship · Dominican Republic · United States of America · Rory McIlroy · Graeme McDowell

Co­rales Pun­ta­cana Re­sort & Club Cham­pi­onship in the Do­mini­can even had a pro-am,

Spec­ta­tors haven’t been al­lowed on site dur­ing PGA Tour events since the first round of the Play­ers Cham­pi­onship over six months ago. Af­ter a 13-week break due to the coro­n­avirus pan­demic, that makes 16 tour­na­ments with­out cheers, jeers or pa­tron an­tics.

That’ll change slightly this week in the Do­mini­can Repub­lic.

The Co­rales Pun­ta­cana Re­sort & Club Cham­pi­onship, pre­vi­ously sched­uled for March but resched­uled due to the pan­demic, will al­low a se­lect num­ber of pa­trons back on grounds — so­cially dis­tanced, of course — when the event tees off Thurs­day.

The fi­nal few holes at Co­rales Golf Club will have cor­po­rate VIP ar­eas set up, al­low­ing spon­sors and a small hand­ful of other vis­i­tors to watch a live sport­ing event in per­son fol­low­ing nec­es­sary COVID screen­ing pre­cau­tions.

“Lis­ten, we’ve been very, very for­tu­nate in the game of golf to be able to be one of the first sports to re­turn back cer­tainly on the tele­vi­sion and be­ing out there com­pet­ing. We’ve been very for­tu­nate, but there’s no doubt that we miss the in­ter­ac­tion of fans,” reign­ing cham­pion Graeme McDow­ell said. “That’s go­ing to be a nice way to get some noise back out here and get those sounds that we ex­pect from tour­na­ment golf back a lit­tle bit.”

The Tour events played with­out fans on site have been odd. For ex­am­ple, Collin Morikawa and Bryson DeCham­beau won their first ma­jors ac­com­pa­nied by near si­lence. But these events held in a some­what dystopian sports world haven’t been com­pletely de­void of fan noise. In last week’s U.S. Open es­pe­cially, fans from sur­round­ing neigh­bor­hoods and ar­eas have found gaps or low fenc­ing to howl at Matthew Wolff or cheer on Rory McIl­roy, re­mind­ing view­ers of a sports cul­ture that used to be.

McDow­ell, who has been the Co­rales Cham­pi­onship king for 19 months, is one of the play­ers ex­cited to have fans back on tour­na­ment grounds in some ca­pac­ity.

“Yeah, I think it’s ex­cit­ing. It’s ex­cit­ing to have a slight bit of nor­mal­ity com­ing back,” McDow­ell said. “Ob­vi­ously, there’s go­ing to be a lim­ited num­ber of fans down here, it’s go­ing to be done the right way. The peo­ple here at Grupo Pun­ta­cana are cer­tainly work­ing hard to make sure they ex­e­cute a re­ally safe game plan in re­gards to just keep­ing peo­ple safe.”

The event fol­lows the San­ford In­ter­na­tional on the Cham­pi­ons Tour in welcoming a smaller num­ber of fans back to live golf, be­com­ing the first pro­fes­sional golf tour­na­ment to wel­come fans in the wake of the global pan­demic.

This week, the United States sur­passed 200,000 deaths re­lated to COVID-19 with the daily num­ber of new cases in­creas­ing each day for the past two weeks.

While the cases and death toll con­tinue to rise, PGA Tour — and pro­fes­sional golf in gen­eral — has boasted one of the low­est in­fec­tion rates among pro­fes­sional sports since the sport’s re­turn this sum­mer. So far, 10 Tour play­ers and two cad­dies have tested pos­i­tive.

PGA Tour Com­mis­sioner Jay Mon­a­han also said ear­lier this month dur­ing his an­nual “state of the Tour” press con­fer­ence that pro-ams would soon be wel­comed back on the sched­ule. This week, the Wed­nes­day pro-am re­turned.

“Lis­ten, love it or hate it, there are cer­tainly some pro-ams out there I love, meet some great peo­ple, and there are prob­a­bly some pro-ams out there I could give it a miss from time to time, but it is an in­te­gral part of what we do with the PGA Tour,” McDow­ell said. “I take them very se­ri­ously. It’s an in­te­gral part of my prepa­ra­tion and be­ing out there and play­ing the golf course.

“Great to have it back and I’m look­ing for­ward to, like I said, I’ve missed the old en­vi­ron­ment a lit­tle bit and per­haps this will give me a lit­tle bit of a taste of the old stuff again and maybe straighten me back out and maybe get me back on some leader­boards again.”

The Tour has not said when fans will re­turn to other events in a lim­ited and so­cially dis­tanced ca­pac­ity, but Mon­a­han said ear­lier this month it’s vi­tal to do it safely: “When we feel like it’s safe to re­turn fans out here, that’s when fans will re­turn. We owe that to them, to make sure that we feel like, and we’re sup­ported lo­cally in ev­ery mar­ket we play in, that that is sup­ported by the lo­cal gov­ern­ment au­thor­i­ties.”

 ?? COUR­TESY PUN­TA­CANA RE­SORT ?? The Co­rales Pun­ta­cana Re­sort & Club Cham­pi­onship will be played in front of some fans this week in the Do­mini­can Repub­lic.
COUR­TESY PUN­TA­CANA RE­SORT The Co­rales Pun­ta­cana Re­sort & Club Cham­pi­onship will be played in front of some fans this week in the Do­mini­can Repub­lic.

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