On Monday, PGA Tour officials, players and caddies will convene at the Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas, to begin preparations for the Charles Schwab Challenge.
It will be the first PGA Tour event since The Players Championship was canceled on March 12 as a result of the COVID-19 spread. And when play starts with the opening round on Thursday, it will have been 90 days since the last tournament round was played.
Suffice it to say: It’s been a long time coming. For golf. And for sports.
The PGA Tour restarts its season before the NBA and NHL resume and before Major League Baseball has even gotten close to starting. When the competition begins Thursday, it will mark the first mainstream sport in America (with apologies to NASCAR and the UFC) to get underway since the world was paralyzed by the pandemic.
Since the PGA Tour rejiggered its April schedule following the cancellations resulting from the coronavirus crisis, the Charles Schwab Challenge was set to lead the leadoff among the first four events – all of which are to be played without spectators and under strict safety regulations. include testing for all “essential ” personnel on the grounds.
“It’s going to be historic, ” Michael Tothe, Charles Schwab Challenge tournament director, said this past week.
“We are excited to be part of the first four,” said Steve Wilmot, the tournament director of RBC Heritage, which is second in the batting order. “It’s likely to be unique. ”
“All of us want to do it the right way,” said Nathan Grube, the Travelers Championship director, the third event on the schedule. We all have an awareness of responsibility to do this right, to help bring the Tour back, to do it the safe way and hopefully the events after we can learn from us. ‘
Are it going to look like with no spectators?
“When the TV cameras come on, it’s not going to look that different, but with no spectators, it’s really going to be quiet here, ” Tothe said. “There really is the buzz you normally would have with 25,000 fans every day. It’s going to be strange. ”
These first four events will likely have the feel of a talent-rich club championship.
We got a small taste of that with the two charity events that were played last month – the game skins at Seminole Golf Club involving Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler and Matthew Wolff, and the game between Tiger Woods and Peyton Manning against Phil Mickelson. and Tom Brady at the Medalist.
But those were exhibitions each involving just four players and a limited TV production crew.
For these first four full-field events on the PGA Tour’s revised schedule – this week at Colonial, then the RBC Heritage, Travelers Championship and the Rocket Mortgage Championship – the curiosity factor is significant.
And that curiosity is not limited to the TV viewing audience, but for the players who’ll be competing amid what will surely be an eerie silence and for the tournament organizers who’ve been scrambling to structure their events in ways they’ve never. had to before.
“When we learned we were moving to June back in early April, I thought our stress levels were really high, because there were a lot of things that needed to be put in place that we didn’t have answers to,” Tothe said. .
This is a unique time when few have answers to many questions. It’s why Tothe and his fellow tournament directors from the first four events have been leaning on each other as they tiptoe into this new territory.
“More than anything, it’s a comfort to have those guys to talk to,” Wilmot said. “Fortunately all different. We all have different venues, different marketplaces, facilities, sponsors, partners. ”
The RBC is the most different of the four, because the golf course weaves through a community resort and is lined with homes, where there will be built-in spectators watching the golf from decks and backyards.
“It’s not a home for rent on a golf course,” Wilmot said. “Everything is rented out. There are people who have rented a home for that week for their family vacation and all of a sudden I’m going, ‘Oh, that’s a PGA Tour event in my backyard.’
What Wilmot, Grube and Langwell will have that Tothe applicants are able to see how the event goes before theirs are done.
“It’s going to be a huge advantage for us, ” Grube said.
“The Tour told us, ‘we’re not going to know certain things until we get through Colonial,'” Wilmot said. “And I’m sure Nathan has been told, ‘We’re not going to know certain things until we get through the two events before you.’ All the other tournaments are going to learn from all of us. ”