PGA Tour Is About to Admit its Largest Crowd of the Year

The Players Championship plans to welcome 10,000 spectators each day, and the golfers hope they don’t gather around the 18th hole all at once.

By Bill Pennington

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — After eight months of hosting events without fans, the PGA Tour recently began cautiously welcoming back a limited number of spectators to its tournaments. This week, at the celebrated Players Championship in Northeast Florida, the tour will take a leap with as many as 10,000 fans on the grounds, the most for any event this year.

A crowd of that size, however, poses a predicament for golf that sets it apart from most other sports, in which the spectators are generally confined to grandstands or at least enclosed within a stadium or arena. Golf has the advantage of being an outdoor sport contested across hundreds of acres with plenty of open space, and it has instituted numerous safety protocols during the coronavirus pandemic.

But previous tour events this year have shown that thousands of fans who are used to walking from hole to hole will ignore social-distancing guidelines and will be prone to gather shoulder-to-shoulder around the leaders of a tournament during the pivotal final holes on a Sunday afternoon.

Last week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational — which permitted about 6,000 fans, the largest crowd so far — a throng eagerly followed Bryson DeChambeau as he closed out a victory. Scores of spectators, especially those holding a beverage in one hand, had removed the face masks that tournament officials mandated on admittance.

Signs around the grounds of PGA Tour events this year have prodded fans to wear masks and stay six feet from one another. Hundreds of on-course volunteers remind the spectators of the requirements, but as golf continues to exit its fan-less experience — the Masters tournament next month will welcome an undefined number of fans, and the P.G.A. Championship in May said it will allow 10,000 fans — the sport will have to continue to find ways to control a crowd used to migrating around a course with few restrictions.

On Tuesday Jay Monahan, the PGA Tour commissioner, said there had been efforts to devise new strategies for the Players Championship, which in past years has sold more than 45,000 tickets daily. He also said that because the T.P.C. Sawgrass golf course was built in the style of an amphitheater, with hillsides rising around holes to offer multiple vantage points for spectators, it should naturally dilute the crowds. The stadium-style setting can also lead to an atmosphere as raucous as one that might be found in the outfield bleachers at an M.L.B. game.

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