Column: Colonial plans for tournament that might not happen
(AP) — Michael Tothe was supposed to be at the World Golf Championships event this week in Austin, Texas, to resume recruiting players for the Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial.
Even though the tournament is still two months away, this is the time to beef up advertising and fill out the roster of its 1,500 volunteers. Colonial is the next event on the PGA Tour schedule. Tothe, the tournament director, has no choice but to plan as though it will happen.
Even though it might not.
“We’re a memo, a phone call, a declaration away,” Tothe said Tuesday. “What we talk about today could change tomorrow.”
Consider how much has changed in so little time because of the new coronavirus.
Two weeks ago, PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan was discussing the tour’s new media rights deal as Rory McIlroy was preparing to defend his title at The Players Championship. Since then, the Masters and PGA Championship were postponed. Monahan canceled the next four events on the schedule, and then the next four after that.
Next up is Colonial, scheduled for May 21-24.
Behind it are the Rocket Mortgage Classic and the Memorial, each proceeding on parallel paths — one in which the tournament will be played, another that it won’t.
Tournament directors feel for the Valspar Championship, the first tournament fully erased from the schedule. It was canceled with three days’ notice after paying to have the sprawling infrastructure erected — grandstands, hospitality tents, signage, everything.
Colonial is in a holding pattern.
“It’s business as usual, but it’s really not,” Tothe said. “At this moment, we’ve stopped spending anything on advertising. We’ve delayed our build. We’re reaching out to all our corporate partners and charities, updating them. We’re still recruiting volunteers. We’re being fiscally responsible, erring on the side of communication.”
Communication is about the only game in town, even if there’s nothing to say.
“There’s just tons of questions,” said Tyler Dennis, the tour’s chief of operations. He said the Tournament Business Affairs division is in daily contact with tournaments, from those that have been canceled to those still months away and wondering what contingency plans should be developed.
The U.S. Open is going through a similar drill, uncertain if can proceed June 18-21 at Winged Foot in New Rochelle, New York.
USGA spokesman Craig Annis said workers stopped building structures more than a week ago based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an order that took effect Sunday night directing all nonessential businesses in the state to close in-office personnel functions.
“Based on where things stand now and the latest restrictions put on the area and throughout the state of New York, we do not know when the build-out can proceed,” Annis said in an email. “At this time, one of the known impacts is the championship corporate hospitality program.
“This does not mean we will not be able to host fans at the 2020 U.S. Open, only that we can no longer fulfill the needs of all of our corporate hospitality clients.”
He said postponement was a possibility, but that decision was still a month away.
Tothe often refers to the Colonial situation as being on the razor’s edge.
“You get excited about being the first tournament back, and what it means to charities, the community, Colonial, Schwab, the players,” he said. “And then you pull yourself back. People are hurting. They’re losing jobs. Just give us the opportunity to allow people for four or five days to be outside and experience golf. But the worst nightmare if someone close to you gets infected. We’re not going to endanger anybody.”
If Colonial gets canceled, Tothe and his team go from there.
Or if it stays on schedule, he can envision at least having enough time to put up ropes and a few concession stands.
“Colonial will look different than a normal year,” he said.
Tothe thought back to nearly three years ago when the tournament lost its title sponsor. There were questions whether Colonial — which dates to 1946 when Ben Hogan won the first of five titles on a course that became known as “Hogan’s Alley” — would even be on the PGA Tour schedule.
Ultimately, the tournament was self-funded and branded as the “Fort Worth Invitational,” and then Schwab stepped in as the title sponsor.
“Those were some sleepness nights, but it’s all relevant,” Tothe said. “That was scary. This is a different kind of scary. This is life and death. Back in ’17 it was just livelihood. Maybe that prepared us to manage this better than others would. So we focus on what’s important, and make sure everyone is safe.
“We’re at peace with whatever happens.”