At a restaurant in an upscale outdoor San Diego mall, bustling with after-Christmas lunchtime shoppers, Marty Gorsich ponders his good fortune between bites of salmon and salad. Gorsich is the executive director of the PGA Tour’s Farmers Insurance Open, and a few miles down the road to La Jolla he has a town full of welcome tents and grandstands rising from the turf at Torrey Pines for the tournament which will be organized end of next month.
A year ago, Torrey barely felt like hosting anything other than a Men’s Club Championship, as no fans were allowed to attend the Farmers and other events on the West Coast Swing due to of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now, starting next week in Maui, all those same tournaments in Hawaii, California, and Arizona that start the 2022 calendar year of the tour should make it feel like the pandemic is completely behind us, even though the world is all over the place. is experiencing record peaks of COVID-19 because of the Omicron variant. All seven West Coast Swing events are expecting crowds at pre-pandemic levels, and sales of corporate and upscale hotels have been strong. Currently, only two tournaments will require proof of spectator vaccination – the Sony Open in Honolulu and the American Express in La Quinta, Calif. – and the PGA Tour has no plans to change its current player protocols.
“It’s an absolute blessing to be in golf,” Gorsich says.
He delivers this knowing that the game, both recreationally and competitively, has managed to progress – even experiencing a boom in participation – as it is played outdoors among individuals who can socially distance themselves from themselves. they want it. Yes, professional golf has seen some athletes test positive for the virus and go into quarantine, but the PGA Tour has hosted nearly 19 months of weekly tournaments since the initial closure in spring 2020. Team sports, meanwhile, continue to undergo a frequent schedule. interruptions amid waves of positive COVID tests among gamers.
“Our guys aren’t sitting in a movie theater together. They are not all in a locker room at the same time, ”says Gorisch.
Just 24 hours before Gorisch’s lunch, he received a sobering reminder of the differences. The San Diego Holiday Bowl was canceled just hours before kick-off because UCLA had too many positive COVID tests to field a team against North Carolina State. Fans across the country who traveled to the game were shut out and millions of dollars spent setting up the San Diego Padres’ Petco Park for football was wasted.
Gorisch felt horrible for his peers who organized the bowl, but that’s the nervous nature of the sports and entertainment industry right now. Twenty-two months after the start of the pandemic, any semblance of normalcy is being assessed on a daily basis.
But this winter is different, says Gorsich. Omicron, while highly contagious, does not appear to have the same dire health consequences as previous coronavirus strains, at least among those who are vaccinated. Numerous scientific studies have also shown that the risk of contracting the virus outdoors is rare, and this has apparently not changed with Omicron.
“Nothing in this variant suggests that it would spread more easily outdoors or more difficultly indoors,” John Swartzberg, an infectious disease expert at the University of California-Berkeley, told the San Francisco Chronicle.
The PGA Tour started welcoming larger crowds last spring and the galleries have increased in size with each event. While the Big Four Championships have limited their crowds to around 10,000, all expect to offer full ticket allocations this year.
Steve John, CEO of the Monterey Peninsula Foundation and Tournament Director for the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, said in a telephone interview that pre-sales of tickets and companies for the tournament, which will be played 3-6 February, are “higher than they have ever been. The event will have its entire contingency of celebrity fans playing alongside the pros – something that didn’t happen in 2021, which makes the event terribly different from Pebble.
“There is a great demand for people to get back to normal,” John said. “It’s a statement around our world right now. Everyone wants to get back to normal.
“We are fully aware of what is going on in our region,” added John. “We don’t want to be deaf to anything that could cause problems for us. We are in communication with many key players. But there is no reason to believe at this time that it would be detrimental to anyone who came to our tournament. “
In San Diego, Gorsich said sales of companies and high-end products had been “very strong” and that a new mid-priced hospitality spot called Canyon Club sold out Friday and Saturday at 360. $ per person. (The Farmers, scheduled for Jan. 26-29, faced a new challenge this year in adopting a Wednesday-Saturday schedule so as not to clash with the NFL Conference Championship games this Sunday.)
Other tournaments are bursting with crowded attractions. The American Express (January 26-29) has Brad Paisley and Maroon 5 performing post-round gigs, while the Waste Management Phoenix Open, February 10-13 at TPC Scottsdale, is back to have its full stage effect. of about 20,000 people. at the 16th par-3 hole. And as the Thunderbirds organizers push the boundaries of golf entertainment, for the first time, a stage will be erected in the middle of the hole after play on Saturday for a live concert with Old Dominion and Thomas Rhett.
The PGA Tour, as an organization, monitors and promotes plans with cautious optimism. “The health and safety of everyone involved in PGA Tour tournaments, as well as the communities in which we play, is paramount,” said a spokesperson for the tour.
Currently, there are no plans to change virus protocols for players or other tour staff, the spokesperson said, who said around 75 percent of tour staff are vaccinated. Players will not be tested before or during tournaments, although on-site testing is available to staff upon request.
In a memo, obtained by Golf Digest, which was sent to members on December 22, the tour stressed that “vaccination, recalls, masking and social distancing are all critically important.”
The tour made at least one change to his plans due to the Omicron surge. He was hoping to expand his player hospitality services to more people, but informed players that only they and a spouse or “significant other” will be allowed for dinner, where masks will still be required when not eating. or don’t drink.
“While we hope to expand access to restricted areas in the New Year, it would not be safe to do so at this time,” the tour said in the memo. “We will continue to closely monitor conditions in the communities where we play and adjust protocols as he becomes responsible.”