In preparing for the rescheduled Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio, in mid-July, Executive Director Dan Sullivan and his staff just might be providing a blueprint for future PGA Tour events in this era of social distancing amid the coronavirus pandemic.
That blueprint includes the high-tech use of an RFID (radio frequency identification) chip in tournament badges to help maintain a healthy spacing of its patrons.
Sullivan outlined a number of plans and safety measures for the 45th Memorial, slated for July 16-19, during a 30-minute “Virtual Sports Report” conducted via Zoom on Thursday by the Greater Columbus Sports Commission. Protocols he highlighted also include limiting ticket sales, curtailing capacity in the clubhouse and public gathering structures, elimination of all grandstands, supplying face coverings for staff and volunteers, taking the temperature of everyone who enters the grounds, prohibiting the sale of draft beer and fountain drinks, restricting all transactions to credit and debit cards, and distributing a healthy dose of hand sanitizer stations throughout the property.
But it’s the RFID technology in the badges, which the Memorial has used for the last four years to monitor entrances and exits and identify choke points at Muirfield Village Golf Club, that could be the most important aspect of the tournament game plan. The chip cannot ascertain an individual’s identity, just the location of the badge.
“At any time we can know around the golf course how many people are collecting in a certain area,” Sullivan said. “We’re going to use that technology to make sure that we’re protecting everyone around us, protecting the folks that are inside those various venues and make sure that we’re monitoring effectively and producing a tournament that everyone can be comfortable with.”
In a follow-up phone call, Sullivan further explained exactly how the technology will be used. What will be the tournament’s response if it sees too many people gathered tightly in one area? “Well, we won’t know if those are all family members, what have you, but our plan is to ask them to separate,” he said. “The safety of everyone on the grounds is our primary concern.”
Sullivan added that there will be a handful of marshals on the grounds with the ability to track the RFID chips and react quickly to a potential problem area.
“We’re going to control every environment, every venue that we have,” he said. “We’re considering every venue to be very much like a restaurant or a bar. We’re going to manage it as the state has mandated at that particular time. So the mandate [currently] is that half capacity in our clubhouse or half capacity and in one of our venues, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
After canceling nine events, the PGA Tour intends to restart its schedule June 11 at the Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas. The Schwab Challenge currently is the first of four tournaments that will not allow spectators. It will be followed by the RBC Heritage, the Travelers Championship and the Rocket Mortgage Classic.
The first tournament tentatively preparing to welcome spectators is the John Deere Classic in Silvis, Ill., the week preceding the Memorial. But there is no guarantee that the Deere will be open to fans.
“It’s a common misconception based on the initial news release that the first four events are not having fans … but it never really said our event is going to have fans,” said Deere tournament director Clair Peterson. “We’re trying to work through all of the obvious considerations, which includes all of the Illinois restrictions. They’re pretty serious about what they’re laying out for the rest of the summer, so we’re staying on top of it, making sure we’re following the rules.
“Who knows? Memorial could be the first event with fans if we do not have them, but they’re in the exact same position of not knowing what will be permissible. But they have to make every preparation possible, as we are.”
Peterson said he was not aware of the technology that Memorial uses in its badges. His event does not have RFID chips in patron tickets and badges. “Oh, wow. We’re much less sophisticated here,” Peterson said with a laugh when he heard of the Memorial’s tech approach. “That sounds terrific. You know, I can see where that might be a real tool for all of us across the board going forward. Like I said, we’re all still trying to figure this thing out as best we can.”
Sullivan said more adjustments to the plan might be in the offing, predicated mostly on mandates from the state of Ohio in reaction to the spread of the virus. The bottom line, however, is that the Memorial Tournament, which never has been held in a month other than May or June, will be different.
“The 2019 Memorial Tournament, if anyone was out here looking at it, that will not be what we create this year,” Sullivan said. “We will not have massive galleries. We will not have people on top of each other. We know that’s irresponsible, and we can’t do it.”