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COVID-19: "You have to be safe and keep playing the game" - TPC Sawgrass

Posted by: on 18 March 2020

Extracted from an article today in Golfweek Magazine:

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Up the street from PGA Tour headquarters, play resumed Tuesday on the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass.

Five days ago, the Stadium Course fell silent as the Players Championship – the PGA Tour’ flagship event – was canceled and the season put on hold amid the global coronavirus pandemic.

But the Stadium and the adjoining Dye Valley Course at TPC Sawgrass reopened to members, guests and the public under bright skies and warm temperatures. While it looked like business as usual – the tee sheet was full, the driving range crowded, players dunking tee shots into the water at the famous par-3 17th, caddies and golf carts at the ready – it wasn’t your normal reopening.

Guided by recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local and state health officials, TPC Sawgrass enacted a lengthy laundry list of protocols to keep the workplace and golf courses safe.

From the pro shop to the bars and restaurants in the clubhouse, from the practice range to the first tee, from the PGA Tour Performance Center at TPC Sawgrass to the locker room, measures were taken to minimize the potential spread of the virus.

Among them: recommendations to leave the flagstick in, don’t pick up playing partners’ clubs, keep a safe distance, and despite this being a gentleman’s game, pass on the traditional handshake after the round.

There was limited seating in dining areas, staff were told to not shake hands, and cleaning procedures were heightened, which included golf carts, door handles, counters and push carts. In addition, credit card signatures were not required and there was a limit of only one player per cart.

“It was a great time. It’s a great course. I’m not too worried about the virus. If I get it, I get it. You just have to be safe and keep playing the game,” said Gary Tucker of Denver, whose brother lives on the 10th tee of the Dye Valley Course. Tucker flew in last week for the Players. And he dunked a ball into the water on the 17th.

“We were just being careful out there,” Tucker said. “Using hand sanitizer a lot. There were no shaking of hands, we limited contact, we did some air fist bumps.”

Tom Hollingsworth of southeast Florida said it was “good to be outside.”

“We’re not doing the normal things like shaking hands. We kept our distance. We’re not high-fiving. We’re fist bumping and air bumping. You just have to be cautious. I wasn’t at much of a risk,” said Hollingsworth, who did make a 3 at the 17th. “The course is in impeccable shape. The rough was tough and sticky so you don’t want to get into that. It was exactly what you expected a few days after the Players.”

Some normalcy during stressful times

Derek Sprague, general manager of TPC Sawgrass, said there is a new norm during these turbulent times and adaptation is required. It helps the two courses are spread out over 675 acres.

“This sport is outdoors, in the sunshine, there is ample space, plenty of room to practice social distancing,” he said. “People can only stay in their homes for so long. On the golf course, they can feel safe. It’s a great outlet for people to get some normalcy in their life during these stressful times.”

Sprague said TPC Sawgrass will adapt hour by hour, day by day.

“As government agencies decide what to do to keep people safe, we will adhere to their recommendations,” he said. “Who knows what it will be like tomorrow or next week, but we’ll adapt.”

The workforce was at full capacity on the golf side and the agronomy side. The food and beverage sector was at a reduced capacity. And just as the PGA Tour decided to pay out half the $15 million purse to the 144 players who played the first round, TPC Sawgrass elected to pay 445 TPC Sawgrass employees in full for the hours they were scheduled to work during the entire tournament.

Changing up the lesson plan

There were no cancellations at the Performance Center, according to Todd Anderson, the director of instruction at the center. Anderson, who works with PGA Tour players Billy Horschel, Brandt Snedeker, Lanto Griffin and Sebastian Cappelen, is a hands-on teacher during his lessons. He’s had to change his ways.

“It’s hard to teach golf from 6 feet away. I’m consciously thinking about what I shouldn’t be doing. But we’re being smart,” Anderson said. For instance, Anderson usually brings his students into his office to watch videos of their swing; that’s now being down outside. Large mirrors are being put to use more frequently.

“We’re doing our best to provide a good experience,” Anderson said. “The world right now needs some positive things and things people can go out and enjoy a little bit. It’s good to be out again doing something you love and being able to hit golf shots on a beautiful day.”

Griffin, who won the Houston Open last October, was at the back of the range hitting balls after being “cooped up in the house the past four days.” During this forced break, he’ll work on his game and stay competitively sharp by playing against many of his colleagues who live in the area.

“I’m 100 percent on board with all the measures to stay safe,” Griffin said. “It feels great to be out here. I was really excited this morning when I woke up to get out here. The day is beautiful and hitting golf balls is great.”

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