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PGA’s West Coast swing forges ahead

HONOLULU >> No fans in Los Angeles. No amateurs in Palm Springs. Those were the latest announcements on PGA Tour stops in California as golf heads back to the mainland next week.

The Genesis Invitational at Riviera on Feb. 18-21 was predictable. COVID-19 cases are raging in the state with the nation’s largest population. California’s death toll reached 31,000 on Wednesday.

“Throughout our extensive planning, it became clear that due to the pandemic the best way to ensure the safety for all involved is to hold the tournament without spectators,” tournament director Mike Antolini said Tuesday.

The first stop is next week in the California desert for The American Express, typically played over three courses and one of two tournaments that features amateurs during the competition. The other is the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.

It now will be played on two courses at PGA West. The pro-am format for 54 holes, a part of the tournament since it began in 1960, has been eliminated. It’s expected to return next year. There will be a Wednesday pro-am at The American Express, typical of regular events since last fall.

Even so, there are signs of improvement.

The Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines follows The American Express and will not have fans. Then it’s over to the Phoenix Open, which is planning for roughly 8,000 people a day — it usually draws in the neighborhood of 600,000 fans for the week — and a single-story structure around the usually rowdy 16th hole.

Pebble Beach will have no fans but stick to its fabled amateur format, a blend of entertainers, Fortune 500 executives and athletes. Pebble at least as a small idea what to expect from having hosted a PGA Tour Champions event last fall.

“We’re forging ahead,” tournament director Steve John said.

John said Pebble Beach was adding vans to shuttle players, caddies and tournament personnel to the three courses used in the rotation. He said the hard part was telling longtime volunteers — they come from all over the country for a week on the Monterey Peninsula — that their services are not needed.

The four tournament directors for the West Coast Swing stay in touch because they have a lot in common.

“We talk about what we’re doing. Everyone is in the same boat, with limited access to the golf course,” John said.

The PGA Tour is working on plans for the World Golf Championship in Mexico City, which is not likely to be held this year without any fans allowed. And then it’s off to Florida and Texas in the five weeks leading to the Masters.

The Players Championship is planning for limited fans, though details are still in flux.

The Honda Classic, held after The Players this year, says it will have limited fans, but there will be room for them around the closing stretch and on the 18th green.

“We are the first really big tour to come out here and do this stuff, so I think we still need to watch ourselves on what we do and where we’re going to be going,” PGA champion Collin Morikawa said. “But for the most part, you know, slowly to start seeing fans, it’s going to be really exciting.”

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