When pro golf comes back, will fans and sponsors still be there?

Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.

The PGA Tour has announced that they’ll resume play starting June 11th at the Charles Schwab Classic in Fort Worth, Texas. There will be no fans and all coronavirus protocols will be observed including player testing. Does this make sense or is the Tour rushing things?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): Sorry, but I don’t think this makes sense.  The players may observe all protocols, but I don’t see how hundreds of officials and volunteers — and in particular, TV crews and people in the production trailers — can be expected to do their jobs six feet apart.  What’s the rush to resume play?  Does anybody really care if the Charles Schwab Classic is or isn’t played this year?

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Hall of Fame Member, PGA of Canada: I confess! I have been a complete pain to many on various blogs who think golfers enjoy some kind of super immunity to the virus. They say such things as “I fought in Afghanistan, so I know what real danger is”. Or, “what’s the crime as long as I don’t touch anything including the flagstick and BTW, I walk to play”? My favourite is when some guy suggested ‘Just because you want to live in a cave, why should I”. I see not following the STAY at HOME orders much like drinking and driving or smoking. Who gives golfers the right to decide the safety of others? Why is playing golf more important than social responsibility? Golf courses that have remained open have done so for one reason, pure greed. Once again, golf was given an opportunity to step up and show leadership but fumbled the ball. Professional sports organizations are role models. By granting themselves a superiority that allows their players to perform they are saying “ding dong the witch is dead. The coast is clear let’s go” even if it isn’t.

Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): It seems a little early, but I’m losing my mind waiting for sports to return. So, if the PGA Tour is confident that it can pull this off safely, I say let’s give it a try. Although, I must admit that I’m a little confused how all of the accommodations and logistics are going to work. I guess those details will be revealed in the coming weeks.

TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): I’ll be honest, it seems rushed to me.  I think a number of players will still be nervous about travelling and it may not be easy for players from certain countries to get to tournaments.  I don’t see any of the top players attending tournaments.  But on the other hand, they will have the eyes and ears of the sports world, as no other sport can return as early as golf, so perhaps it will be good for the game.  Only time will tell. Selfishly, I’d love to see live golf on tv in June, we’ll be well overdue for live sports by then!

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: It makes as much sense as the title of the event. The best scientists on the planet can’t predict what the world will be like on the second Thursday in June, so how can the popinjays at Ponte Vedra?

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): Definitely rushing things. Until the world gets the all-clear and there’s a vaccine in sufficient quantities, any group activity, no matter how careful they think they are, is just one risk too many. We can wait until the fall or 2021 if necessary.

European Tour Commissioner Keith Pelley has acknowledged that when play resumes on his Tour, he expects fewer tournaments, smaller purses and some major changes as they move forward, not just this year but for years to come. PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan, on the other hand, seems anxious to make up for lost time and return to something resembling the way it used to be. When record numbers of people are filing for unemployment and businesses are failing all over North America, does it seem a bit tone deaf for the PGA Tour to be asking tournament sponsors to dole out millions of dollars to fund play dates for millionaires? And will sponsors continue to comply or will they face blowback from customers and suppliers?

Deeks: Personally, I think it’s tone deaf and tone blind.  Bordering on moronic.  I don’t wish any ill on the Tour or the players, but I think they should set an example of empathy and responsibility… and this ain’t it.

Schurman: I’m going to translate the word “blowback’ into ‘consequences’. Undoubtedly, there will be economic pressures on every corner of every business for a long time which in themselves will affect all professional sports. The biggest ‘hurt’ to the PGA TOUR will be the charities supported by the TOUR. However, there is another problem. The ‘image’ of golf and golfers. A certain faction of the public already views golf as an elitist activity. While millions of people are going to face severe financial impositions, we will see a wider divide between the “haves and the have-nots” and an increase in the number of have-nots. None of this is good for tournament golf or for that matter, golf itself.

Kaplan: I mean, it would be much more altruistic if these enormous companies decided to direct their massive advertising/sponsorship budgets toward people that are in need right now. But I just don’t see that happening; call me a cynic. If they have the money to spend on sponsorships, they’re going to do it. And yes, there will be blowback from certain segments, but there will also be many who appreciate that these companies are helping to bring a little bit of normalcy back into our lives. Plus, golf might be the only televised sport at that time, and the amount of ratings and coverage these tournaments are going to get will be unprecedented. So, from a marketing perspective alone, it’s absolutely worth it.

Rule: They may get a rude awakening when sponsors start dropping out and the Tour is faced to make difficult decisions on how to reward their players as well as they have in the past.  Maybe this is the opportunity the World Golf Group needs to swoop in on the PGA Tour’s monopoly!  Ah, who’s kidding who, the PGA Tour will be fine.

Quinn: Monahan is careening very close to his ‘Best Before’ date for a reality check. He’s either watching too many of Drumpf’s daily I-Me -Me -My shows or too much Fox News. Just as the mindless Make America Open Again protesters were confronted by front line nurses, customers and suppliers and sponsors will give the Tour an overdue reality bite.

Mumford: I can’t imagine the negative publicity a sponsor would generate if they paid out a big chunk of cash to the PGA Tour while any of their employees were furloughed. This has disaster written all over it. Even the dim-witted CEO’s who choose profits over saving lives should be able to figure this one out.

As weeks drag on with no live golf coverage on TV from any Tour, some people say they’ll watch anything the Golf Channel puts on while others have found they don’t miss it and have tuned out on golf altogether. Which camp are you in and will it change how you view golf once live action returns to the airwaves?

Deeks: I’m in the “I don’t care” camp.  In fact, what little golf I’ve watched on Golf Channel, have been the older events and old shows like Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf.  I wish they’d put on more of these… like All-Star Golf and Big Three Golf, and tournament highlights from the 1930s on.  Mind you, I might be an audience of one for some of these shows.  As for when it’s all over, I suspect I’ll watch less golf than I did, because I’ve proven to myself that I don’t miss it.

Schurman: I wish I was able to watch all the re-runs, but I can’t. The shows that I do watch over and over are Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf and All-Star Golf. Occasionally, I’ll go to the Master’s website and watch some of the old Master’s shows. but the more modern era programs are so Tiger oriented they bore me.

Kaplan: Don’t get me wrong. I love golf but I do not love the Golf Channel. If golf’s not on, I’m not watching their other programming. There is simply too much good television to catch up on to be watching replays of old tournaments and bobblehead commentary.

Rule: Luckily, I’ve been adequately distracted at home running my business while looking after my 20-month-old, so I haven’t actually spent any time watching the Golf Channel.  That doesn’t mean I don’t miss live golf action, because I do, and I don’t think my previous golf watching habits will be altered in any way when the world returns to some normalcy.  There are so many die hard golf fans in the world that I’m a bit surprised the Golf Channel hasn’t started running live coverage of the Outlaw Tour that is still operating!

Quinn: When The Golf Channel debuted, it was a constant stream of infomercials (Perfect Club anyone?), Peter Kessler interviews and voice overs (oh ya, the Perfect Club) and grainy replays of tourneys past. The bride would say: ‘Oh, I see you’re watching Olde Golfe.’ I’m well past that and haven’t had GC on for weeks. If and when the Tour is back in real time, I’ll be in from the garden and back on the couch where I belong.

Mumford: So far, I’ve managed to resist any golf on TV and don’t feel any anxiety or withdrawal symptoms. When live play resumes, I expect I’ll watch about the same as I did before but won’t be too broken up if there are fewer tournaments going forward. As I said last week, “Less is More”. Maybe someday the brain trust in Ponte Vedra will understand that.

The Round Table
The Round Table is a panel of golf writers, PGA members and industry experts.

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