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Embracing the COVID-19 challenge

By |  August 10, 2020 0 Comments

The coronavirus has caused the PGA Tour to make significant changes in how tournaments are scheduled and conducted. One of those changes was to schedule the Workday Charity Open (July 9-12) and the Memorial Tournament, presented by Nationwide (July 16-19), back to back at Muirfield Village Golf Club, Dublin, Ohio. The USGA Women’s U.S. Open and the U.S. Open were played back to back at Pinehurst Resorts on Course No. 2 in 2014, but this is the first time that two PGA Tour events in recent memory have been played back to back on the same golf course.

I had the opportunity to visit Muirfield Village Golf Club during the two tournaments. The Memorial Tournament was originally scheduled for June 4-7 but moved to the later date in July. During the spring, the Memorial was rescheduled with fans returning to the tournament. As the tournament date approached, the rule was put into effect that prohibited the general public and fans attending the tournament.

However, many of the skyboxes and viewing stands had been constructed prior to the change. Walking around near the empty stands reminded me of the NASCAR races on TV this summer without fans. The empty massive shiny aluminum stands were eerie-looking. The tournament feeling was like a college golf tournament, except Tiger Woods, Justin Thomas and Jon Rahm walked the course.

One of the points of interest in attending the tournament was to see how Chad Mark, the golf course superintendent, and his staff and volunteers were managing and dealing with the potential of coronavirus. I quickly realized that a majority of the procedures put in place for the tournaments had been in place as standard practices since late winter.

A unique and valuable tool was a website (mvgcturf.com) created specifically for the tournaments. The website included an introductory video from Chad Mark welcoming and outlining COVID-19 procedures to the staff and volunteers. One part of the website outlined the job responsibilities of each member with their start time, along with the leader or captain of the team. These postings would be updated daily. The purpose of the posts, staggered start times and team captains was to minimize the congregation of a large number of staff and volunteers prior to the morning or afternoon start. Staff and volunteers were encouraged to arrive as close to their start times as possible to minimize crowding.

Face masks were required when indoors or in close proximity to someone, such when crew members were riding in a cart with another person. Social distancing was encouraged with signage present in areas where gatherings could occur, and hand washing stops were placed throughout the maintenance facility. These instructions also recommended staying outside as much as possible.

Staff and volunteers were expected to arrive close to their start time, and upon arrival, each person received a screening and temperature check. Staff members wore wrist bands to designate they had passed the screening.

This summer, the restart of sports has focused as much on how the sport is managing coronavirus within the sport as much as who is winning. Some sports have restarted to the glare of negative reports of player infections, while others have not. Golf has been able, at least as of this writing, to successfully manage the disease. A critical part of this success is due to golf course superintendents, who bring a dedication and imagination to managing this disease as part of their job.

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