SILVIS — Needless to say, preparations for this year's John Deere Classic have been unique.
With the country caught in the COVID-19 pandemic, nothing has been normal for the past two months.
And nobody knows what the future holds in terms of golf or anything else — especially in Illinois where Governor J.B. Pritzker has a “stay at home” order for residents through at least the end of May. That could possibly be extended with the peak of the coronavirus not expected until June now, according to state officials.
Planning a 50th anniversary party for thousands the second week of July has taken on a different tenor for JDC tournament director Clair Peterson and his staff as well as for TPC Deere Run general manager Todd Hajduk and his crew inside the hosting facility.
“We're proceeding as if it's happening and adjust as needed,” said Peterson, who is prepping for his 18th QC event as tournament director. “We're proceeding as if we are having a tournament.”
One thing is for sure. No matter how things play out between now and the start of tournament week on July 6, the annual PGA Tour event at TPC Deere Run will have a different look to it — both on and off the course.
For sure, the 50th anniversary celebrations will be tempered.
“It changes our focus, certainly,” Peterson said. “We're going to have an adjustment during tourney week. The (Friday night) concert isn't happening, the big volunteer party isn't happening, we had plans for a Wednesday night dinner and that's probably not going to happen. All of which were focused on celebrating the 50th.”
Many of golf's luminaries with ties to the JDC were expected to be here for the Wednesday dinner and celebration that was to follow the pro-am. That is also shelved because of PGA Tour restrictions.
“This is a reminder that this event has gone through a lot of ups and downs over its 49 events and into its 50th,” Peterson said. “This is another one that I'm confident we'll get through in whatever final form it winds up in and we'll keep moving forward.”
There are still questions as to whether fans will be allowed to attend the tournament. If fans are allowed, will they be limited in number?
Some are questioning if the event will get played even though it is still on the PGA Tour schedule.
The questions regarding fans have left tournament officials in a quandary as to what the tournament looks like in terms of the hospitality structures that adorn the Deere Run landscape on the southeast part of the property between holes 15 and 18.
Peterson says he has been in contact with the roughly 50 partners who rent those hospitality spaces for personal socializing and business mingling.
“We have, to no surprise, gotten a lot of feedback from the hospitality sponsors,” Peterson said. “No. 1 wondering what everyone is wondering, including yourself, what's the tournament going to be like come July. No. 2 whether or not they feel comfortable inviting 150 to 200 of their guests to this gathering.
“If you have ever been in one of those suites, it's anything but social distancing.
“The other part of that decision-making for them is if have they been financially affected by what's going on. Some businesses don't feel as if this is the right way to spend the money at this point. So you have a couple of different issues with those constituents.
“I can tell you that we have heard from probably half of them that they just don't feel comfortable for either of those two reasons.”
The vendor in charge of building the hospitality suites here, Peterson said, is working with the tournament. The build at Deere Run usually begins by the end of May, so just a few weeks remain until decisions must be made.
Altered builds for upcoming PGA Tour events are common. The Memorial, the event that follows the JDC in July, announced this week that it would have no hospitality suites on property at Muirfield Village GC in Dublin, Ohio.
With reduced hospitality options and potentially no fans, revenue streams will be affected.
“Under either scenario — a reduced number of fans or no fans at all, the cost of doing business is going to exceed whatever revenue we have,” Peterson said. “We will lose money, it's just a matter of how much.
“That being said, we've got a reserve fund. We've spent last 20 years being smart, like any good business, and putting money away for emergencies. There's no number we're looking at that is going to take us under.”
While financial considerations are huge, there are plenty of other concerns Peterson and his staff are facing now. As he described it, there are “layers upon layers upon layers of considerations that go way beyond the thought of 'it's just golf'” and the minuatia involved in staging a world-class PGA Tour event.
It includes everything from the well-being of players, caddies, fans and volunteers who will be tested or screened to how to run a “clean” event and keeping everyone on property safe.
To that end, the PGA Tour earlier this week released a 37-page book of guidelines for tournaments to follow and suggestions to implement. The topics range from on-course hand sanitizer being made available to a centralized hotel for players to feeding players to condensing the number of media allowed.
Just more layers of details that never had to be dealt with before to be ironed out in order to conduct a successful tournament.
The Tour is still planning on resuming tournament play in June in Texas. The first four events are all slated to be held without fans, but will be televised. The Tour has not made any decisions on allowing fans at any events to follow.
“We are not wedded to any specific date,” Andy Pazder, PGA Tour's chief tournament and competitions officer said during a press briefing this week regarding when fans could be allowed at events. “Obviously, it is going to be dependent on local, state and federal regulations that will largely dictate when we are able to resume having some number of fans. I would absolutely anticipate that whenever that occurs, it would initially be on a limited basis to ease ourselves back into having spectators on site.”
As Peterson said, the approach right now on everything is “cautiously cautious.”
“It's an anomaly year and we've all come to understand that,” Peterson said. “We'll just keep plugging away and make decisions based on safety, look at the long game and just get through it.”
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