Running the most heavily attended sporting event in Palm Beach County, Florida, year after year in normal times presents a challenge.
Now, add a persistent, highly contagious virus that requires strict mandates and that’s what Ken Kennerly, the executive director of the Honda Classic, is dealing with this year.
The Honda will be held at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens from March 18-21. Inside the ropes, the tournament will have the same feel as any other year since the event was moved from neighboring Mirasol 14 years ago. Outside those ropes, things will be much different for a tournament that twice has been named the most fan-friendly event on the PGA Tour.
Still, Kennerly and his staff are attempting to make this year’s event as normal as possible while adhering to the rules.
“When they come out here, they’re going to feel like they’re at a golf tournament,” Kennerly said. “They’re going to see structures. You’re going to feel the energy.”
Scaled down, of course.
“Safety is our total priority this year,” Kennerly added.
The Honda, won last year by South Korea’s Sungjae Im, will be held to the guidelines put in place by the PGA Tour since it resumed play in June following a three-month shutdown because of the coronavirus pandemic. That means an event that drew more than 206,000 fans over seven days last season will be limited to 40,000 over four days this year, and no more than 10,000 per day.
“The credibility of the PGA Tour stands first and foremost,” Kennerly said. “The Tour’s not going to let anybody put something out there that’s going to put people in harm’s way.”
Kennerly saw first-hand last week just what a tournament looks like with scaled back attendance and protocols in place, when he spent two days at the Phoenix Open, which was won by Jupiter’s Brooks Koepka.
Honda officials have been collaborating throughout the fall and winter with the Tour and have looked at two events in particular: The Phoenix Open and The Players Championship, which will be held at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach one week before Honda.
Kennerly was in Phoenix on Feb. 3 when about 2,000 fans attended the Pro-Am. What he saw was encouraging and makes him believe these tournaments can be safely held with thousands of spectators. The PGA Tour requires fans to wear a face covering at all times while on the course — except when eating or drinking — even if no one is in close proximity.
“I was impressed people were adhering to the policy,” Kennerly said. “I was impressed people were having a good time. People were out and about. They were respecting other people’s space.
“I think our society has accepted the fact, you’re outside, you’re going to wear a face covering. There was an enormous amount of respect for COVID. There was an enormous amount of respect for the protocols that the PGA Tour and Phoenix put in place and we’re going to do the same.”
Volunteers, private security and local police will be among those monitoring the grounds during Honda. Kennerly said Honda is looking for more volunteers.
“If someone’s mask is down and they don’t have a drink in their hand or something to eat they’ll probably remind them,” Kennerly said. “If they get out of hand, then we’ll have to jump to that degree.”
Fewer fans mean fewer stands
About 350,000 square feet of structures were built on The Champion Course grounds last year. That number will be reduced to about 125,000 square feet this year.
The Bear Trap, which winds around the 16th green and 17th tee box, will be reimagined into three sections with 350 people in blocks of two and four seats. The Bear Trap will hold 1,050 fans max this year, down from 5,000 to 6,000 in a normal year.
About half of the 10,000 fans on-site will have access to stands and structures such as the Bear Trap, Champions Club, Waterford Club, sky suites and others.
Grounds tickets for each day are $60 and are on sale at thehondaclassic.com. While some other tournaments have drastically increased prices because of the demand, Honda has added just a $5 COVID surcharge.
“We’re losing money, but we didn’t want to gouge the market because these are our friends, this is our community,” Kennerly said.
Honda raised a record $5.3 million for charity last year. Kennerly said he is hoping to raise $1.5 to $2 million this year.
Early ticket sales have been brisk, according to Kennerly. He is sure the event’s 10,000 daily ticket allotment will be sold out.
“Our numbers are going to be way down, but it’s the way of the world,” he said. “The bottom line is we’re going to have a great event with a very attractive buildout.”
original article link https://golfweek.usatoday.com/2021/02/12/the-honda-classic-and-the-bear-trap-will-look-a-little-different-this-year/