As of late March, 3M Open tournament director Mike Welch said the PGA Tour event had five or six scenarios prepared ahead of the late-July event. This week, that number dropped to two.
Either a small number of fans will be welcomed to TPC Twin Cities in Blaine, Minn., or the event will be held without spectators. There is still a small chance that a third option could come into play: that the tournament is canceled altogether this year.
“But I think that one only takes place if, unfortunately, some type of outbreak occurs in Minnesota,” Welch said. “And nobody is wishing for that.”
There likely will be a tournament, but will a smattering of fans be allowed on the course? The 3M Open hopes to have that news within the next two weeks. That ball is largely in the state’s court.
The PGA Tour is set to resume play with the Charles Schwab Challenge in Fort Worth, Texas, on June 11. That will be the first of four tournaments the Tour determined will be played without spectators. The 3M Open is the third tournament the Tour hopes will be played with fans, but that will only happen with the approval of Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz.
The PGA has put forth a plan that involves constant testing and screening for players, as well as an enhanced disinfectant and hygiene program. Welch said the 3M Open is building its operations plan from there.
From a competition perspective, Welch said the tournament staff feels “like we’re in a really good spot. Safety is clearly the No. 1 goal for us when we run this tournament.” The safety of fans is a trickier equation.
Sure, golf is played outside, and Welch noted there are “54,000 socially distanced square feet” at TPC Twin Cities for spectators to roam, but how can the tournament go about policing proper distancing? It’s manageable in hospitality tents, where spaces can be clearly marked, and Welch said the tournament’s corporate partners could potentially be asked to “flight” their guests so they’re attending at different times throughout the day. But distancing would be tougher to enforce on the rest of the grounds.
The tournament can do a lot to keep people as safe as possible, from thermal testing to on-course volunteers promoting social distancing to sanitizing and disinfecting. Welch said they’ll encourage spectators to wear masks and ask anyone showing symptoms to stay home, which can be tough when you already paid for a ticket.
But what about when all the fans on the course are trying to cram onto the final two holes to view a thrilling finish? Remember last year when Bryson DeChambeau, Collin Morikawa and eventual champion Matthew Wolff delivered plenty of fireworks late Sunday afternoon on No. 18?
“If you or I are trying to get a glimpse of one of the top players in the world, are we really going to be cognizant of that social distancing?” Welch wondered. “I would like to think that answer is ‘Yes,’ but I just don’t know if we’re prepared to say that right now, knowing what we see on beaches in Florida, it’s just so different to try to project that out.”
If the 3M Open can have spectators, it will not be 15,000-17,000 fans flocking to TPC Twin Cities on a daily basis. That’s not feasible this year. Welch suggested the best-case scenario would likely be 3,000-4,000 fans welcomed each day.
“It’s going to be sort of an exclusive event,” Welch said. “I think if you’re a core golf fan … and we’re allowed to have spectators, you’re going to have to go to the website when we announce that we are able to have fans and purchase your tickets.”
That will only happen with the state’s approval. Otherwise, the 3M Open will be a players-only event. That would feature its own challenges, primarily on the financial end. Welch noted if there are no fans or corporate partners, there is no local revenue.
That would hurt one of the primary causes of the tournament — to raise money for the community. The 3M Open Fund is a non-profit organization that delivered $1.5 million in proceeds generated from last year’s tournament to charity. Fans or not, there will still be a giving component to this year’s tournament, Welch said; the tournament will give back to local non-profits, many of which will have an arm for COVID-19 relief.
If no fans are allowed, the 3M Open will offer refunds to corporate partners who have made investments and fans that have bought tickets, but the hope is many would still choose to give.
Welch noted the 3M Open aims to bring many of the best golfers in the world to Minnesota. He’s confident that will be the case this season, as the 3M Open is one of just 13 events remaining in this PGA Tour season, and players want to play.
The tournament also wants to provide “a first-class event for the sports fans in Minnesota.” That gets trickier if fans aren’t allowed, but the hope would then be to make the broadcast appointment viewing. Welch and Co. would work with CBS and the Golf Channel to tell stories such as 3M’s efforts to help fight the coronavirus.
Fans or not, Welch noted the tournament hopes to learn its fate in the near future.
“Our hope is that we’re going to continue to get feedback from the Governor’s office, as well as the Tour, and that we can start to let the fans of Minnesota know here within 10-14 days where we say, ‘OK, here’s what our tournament is going to be,’ ” Welch said.
“If we have fans, great. Let’s start marketing it, let’s start selling ticket packages. And if we’re not, let’s start driving [people] to tune into the actual tournament and start talking about the wonderful stories that we’re going to have with our players and our volunteers that have to put on the tournament.”