When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit in the spring of 2020, few people would have guessed that 13 months later the pandemic would still be affecting professional golf events played in California.
But from the postponement and eventual playing of the 2020 ANA Inspiration with no gallery in Rancho Mirage to last week’s Hugel Air Premia L.A. Open, professional golf has been a silent sport in California.
The ANA Inspiration has been played twice now under restrictions that included no fans. All eight men’s golf events in the state since last summer — including The American Express in La Quinta in January – also did not permit fans.
Those tournaments, while generally featuring terrific golf and solid winners, have felt a bit lifeless. A tournament needs crowds to cheer for good shots, groan for bad shots and give an ovation to the winner.
Golf hasn’t been the only sport with no fans for much of the last year, but finally it looks like golfers will be celebrated by fans in person in California again starting in June. The United States Golf Association has announced that both the U.S. Women’s Open the first week of June at The Olympic Club in San Francisco and the U.S. Open two weeks later on the South Course at Torrey Pines in San Diego will permit fans outside the ropes.
No, it won’t be the capacity crowds the USGA had expected when the national championships were awarded to those courses, but some fans are better than no fans at all. On the men’s side, this will mark three consecutive major championships with at least some fans.
So things are back to normal with fans returning to the fairways, right? Well, not quite.
A U.S. Open is a mammoth undertaking that does more than put 20,000 or so people on a golf course. There are giant hospitality tents to accommodate sponsors. There are massive grandstands around keyholes, particularly the first tee and the 18th green. There are concession stands, media tents and television compounds to be built.
With limited fans allowed, that means everything else at the two national championships will be scaled back. The last time the U.S. Open was held at Torrey Pines in 2008, the golf course could hardly contain all the fans and the excitement as Tiger Woods won on a leg that would require surgery just days after he beat Rocco Mediate in a Monday playoff. In fact, it felt like the place might explode from the energy that weekend.
That’s an energy that will be lacking in June, and not just because Woods won’t be playing. With the coronavirus pandemic slowly winding down, at least in the United States, recreating that kind of energy will be almost impossible at a tapered-down U.S. Open.
But the fans who will be at Torrey Pines, or at The Olympic Club, will be happy to at last be back on the course. California fans have watched now as tournaments in Florida and Texas and even the Masters in Georgia have allowed fans, and the golfers in those events have embraced the return of fans to root them on.
Now that will be true in California. And it is a step closer to normal, thanks to the easing of state and county restrictions.
The true test for the return of fans and the return of excitement to golf events in California will be in August, when the Barracuda Championship is played in Truckee in Northern California, and in September when the Safeway Open returns to Napa. Could it be that those tournaments will allow full capacity to their fairways by then? Could concerts with golf tournaments return by then? That’s when we will know that normal is back.
Then again, what we thought was normal and what normal will be in the future could be two completely different things. Large crowds will continue to make some people uncomfortable even as more and more people are fully vaccinated. Some people will continue to wear masks even when masks are no longer mandated. What a sports crowd looked like in 2019 may be viewed as antiquated by the time 2022 rolls around.
For now, let’s be happy that the USGA, the state of California, San Diego and San Francisco will allow fans into two of the biggest golf events of the year. And we can hope that this is the last time we have to hear the words “limited capacity” for professional golf events in the state.
Larry Bohannan is the golf writer at the Palm Springs (California) Desert Sun, part of the USA Today Network. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Facebook or on Twitter at @Larry_Bohannan.
original article link https://golfweek.usatoday.com/2021/05/01/us-open-torrey-pines-california-restrictions/