Muirfield Village is about to find out if its bunkers are made of quicksand.
The private golf club in Dublin got the go-ahead Friday to allow a limited number of fans to attend the Memorial Tournament on July 16-19, becoming the first PGA Tour event to be played with spectators since the coronavirus pandemic shut down most American sports, in mid-March.
A maximum of about 8,000 spectators will be permitted on the 18-hole course at any one time, according to a draft prepared by tournament organizers.
Getting clearance from the state of Ohio was essential, but also the easy part. Next up: navigating dozens of safety protocols that will test how badly fans want to show up to watch professional golf in person, and how long they remain on site.
Wearing masks for hours on end in potential 90-degree heat? Mandatory temperature readings before entering the course? Social distancing on the hillside around the 18th green? We are about to find out how well that works, as the Memorial becomes a guinea pig for golf and many outdoor sporting events.
Tournament director Dan Sullivan welcomes the opportunity to show how his event can provide leadership in becoming the first tour event with spectators since the first round of the Players Championship on March 12.
“The Memorial is looking forward to … (becoming) an example of how public gathering events can be developed and implemented with approved and accepted protocols in place,” the tournament said in a release Friday, hours after Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced a lifting of restrictions on specific large-group events, including the Memorial.
Sullivan said on Saturday that the tournament would begin announcing ticket plans in the next two weeks.
DeWine’s latest phasing out of restraints related to the COVID-19 pandemic takes effect in two weeks and also includes casinos, racinos, amusement parks, water parks and outdoor theaters, once they submit an activation plan. The overall ban on 11 or more remains in place, absent state approval.
A week before the Memorial, on July 9-12, Muirfield Village will host a new, one-time-only PGA Tour event that will be held without fans. The tour has not revealed the name of that tournament, but it will be sponsored by the software company Workday.
The new event will allow Memorial organizers to “test run” safety practices on tour players and members of the competition committee, including daily temperature checks and COVID-19 testing upon arrival and once during the week. Golfers at both events have the option of competing with or without masks.
Getting a head start on implementing safety measures on players, volunteers and staff is a big deal, but the bigger deal comes when fans show up for the Memorial.
The Memorial’s action plan, which undoubtedly will be massaged once Sullivan sees how the tour handles safety protocols at the five tournaments preceding the Memorial — all to be played without spectators — is impressive in its attention to detail. Its draft includes:
• Daily attendance reduced by one-half to one-third of normal. The Memorial typically does not release crowd figures, but the 8,000 estimate represents about 20% of maximum capacity.
• Each hole will include designated sitting or standing corrals, through which a predetermined number of spectators will be permitted. Each corral will be marked with a maximum number of fans and will be monitored.
• Nonsurgical masks will be required upon entry for all attendees, with exempted exceptions recognized. Temperature readings will be conducted at all entrances and to all those on the property through handheld units and thermal temperature readers.
• There will be no on-site bleachers.
• Players will be advised to not interact with fans.
• All general public shuttle transport will be eliminated.
• Media will be limited to 25% of typical attendance, and there will be a 50% reduction in CBS and the Golf Channel’s on-site crew.
It remains to be seen how placing restrictions on spectators will impact both interest in attending and attitude toward what transpires on the course. No one knows for certain, but Memorial organizers believe they will be as prepared as possible.
Rob Oller is a columnist for the Columbus Dispatch, part of the USA Today Network. Email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter: @rollerCD