In-Person Professional Events vs. In-Person Collegiate Events

The Paladin breaks down in-person events in professional sports and collegiate sports.

Sophomore Anna Morgan tees off at Furman Golf Club. Her success should be celebrated by in-person fans this spring. Furman Athletics

As professional and collegiate sports return to competition this fall, the debate over the presence of fans rages on. In certain sports, like college football, some stadiums have allowed limited-capacity attendance, while others bar any fans from entering. Although the NBA Playoffs did not feature live spectators, there are rumors swirling that the upcoming college basketball season will likely include fans in limited numbers. Other sports that have opened their stadium doors to the public include soccer, baseball, and tennis, to name a few. However, one sport that still prohibits spectators at the highest levels of competition might surprise you: golf.

Golf seems to be a natural candidate for hosting fans amidst the pandemic. Courses are outdoors and situated over hundreds of acres of property, which eliminates worries about indoor air circulation and allows for proper social distancing. Additionally,  players and fans have minimal up-close interaction, reducing the risk of transmission between the parties. So why, then, has golf been left out in the cold as other sports allow people to watch?

Since the PGA Tour’s restart in June, there have been 18 events played, all sans spectators. In September, Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan indicated the organization’s desire to bring back fans at close to normal capacity in late 2020 or early 2021. He said, “When we feel like it's safe to return fans out here, that's when fans will return..” Monahan elaborated, “We owe that to them, to make sure that we feel like we're supported locally in every market we play in, that that is supported by the local government authorities.”

This week’s Bermuda Championship marks the official return of fans to a Tour event. Both this event and next week’s Houston Open will allow roughly 2,000 spectators on the course, signaling an effort on the part of the Tour to get fans reintegrated into the professional golf tour.  

Player reaction to the announcement has been mixed. Tour professional Kevin Kisner indicated support for the plan, saying "We need the fans back. Without the fans, the tournaments are not the same, the revenues are not the same. We need them back. All of us want to play in front of fans. We appreciate having people applauding our golf shots other than the one or two volunteers on a hole.” Other high-profile players, such as Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, and Justin Thomas, applauded the Tour’s move as safe and judicious. In contrast, other well-known players, such as Phil Mickelson, expressed concern over the return of fans. Mickelson said, "For me personally, I don't like the risk of having that happen the week before the Masters [Tournament]. So, it has made me question whether or not I'll play there."

Mickelson, however, later clarified his statement, saying that he felt the Tour would do a “great job of making it safe.” Despite some lingering doubts, most players want to have fans on the course during competition. It makes their experience as athletes better, provides necessary revenues for the Tour, and creates a space for fans to show support and enjoy the competition. .

This sentiment extends to collegiate players. Although many conferences – including the Southern Conference – canceled or postponed their fall seasons, the SEC, BIG 12, and some smaller Division I conferences have competed over the past couple of months. Like the PGA Tour, events have been tightly restricted, and no fans have been allowed on property. Speaking with a few Furman players, it was clear that they are ready and hopeful for on-course spectators this spring. Junior Nathan Norfleet said, “With crowds at college golf events being not very dense and the course being outside, I would feel comfortable with fans.” Senior Jack Crosby echoed Norfleet, adding that “bigger events like [NCAA] regionals get a good number of fans, and they really can fuel a player’s round.”

Women’s team player Madison Moosa summed up the players’ feelings well: “I do love having [the fans] out there and I know the team does as well. I really hope to have them out there again in the spring, especially during our home tournament.” Moosa noted that fans this semester have safely attended on-campus football and soccer games during last weekend’s Purple & White scrimmages – to her, this should give golf permission at the college level. “We’ve seen students and families at soccer games, football games, so why can’t we have golf fans?” she asked. If nothing else, allowing spectators on the course gives these players a public, regulated, and safe space to interact with their biggest fans.

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