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A limited number of fans will attend the PGA Tour event
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.”