PALM HARBOR, Fla. — The conditions are pristine, and there are plenty of golfers who are taking advantage, enjoying the pure, slick greens — maybe not so much the thick Bermuda rough.
The Copperhead Course at the Innisbrook Resort still looks primed to host the best golfers in the world, but obviously that is not possible right now in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
The closest thing to a PGA Tour golfer taking part on this day is John Huston, 58, a Champions Tour player who won what was then called the Tampa Bay Classic in 2000, the inaugural event of a tournament now called the Valspar Championship.
Twenty years later, the tournament was set to begin Thursday, with Paul Casey as the two-time defending champion. The field included Jon Rahm, Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth. And the weather forecast is glorious, with temperatures in the low 80s all week.
Instead, resort guests and Innisbrook members filled the tee sheet and workers scrambled to disassemble two months’ worth of work in the aftermath of the Valspar Championship being canceled. The same tournament was also canceled in 2001 due to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
“You take a moment to exhale, and then go, ‘OK, let’s rally.’ And let’s get this thing figured out,” Valspar tournament director Tracy West said after the PGA Tour event was canceled. Bob Harig/ESPN.com
“Everyone is sad, no question,” said Tracy West, the Valspar tournament director since 2015. “But you take a moment to exhale, and then go, ‘OK, let’s rally.’ And let’s get this thing figured out. And try to get excited for 2021. Whenever you have a blow like this, people tend to rally. We’re very optimistic we’ll get through this.”
That doesn’t mean it has been easy. Like those behind other tournaments on the PGA Tour, West and her staff were eagerly waiting last week to see how PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan was dealing with the ever-changing sports landscape in the wake of ramped-up attention to the virus.
First, the tournament was to go on as scheduled. Then it was to be played without spectators. And then, finally, a week ago well past dark, the PGA Tour made the decision to pull the plug on the Players Championship, Valspar Championship, WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play Championship, the Punta Cana Open and the Valero Texas Open.
The Masters later decided to postpone its event, as has the PGA Championship. Meanwhile, the PGA Tour moved forward with canceling the RBC Heritage, the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, the Wells Fargo Championship and the AT&T Byron Nelson.
All of those tournament directors, officials and volunteers are now facing what West and her crew have been dealing with for a week.
“I hate the phrase ‘It is what it is.’ That drives me crazy. But it is,” she said. “It’s been chaotic. It still is. We have so much to work through financially. We’ve got sponsors wanting to know what is going to happen. The charities have been understanding, but they are worried. A lot of people want to know what is going on. And it’s a lot to sift through. This is a big business.”
And a complicated one. PGA Tour events are set up as 501(c)(3) charities, which means they are non-profit.
But there are numerous entities in play. The local organizing group has a contract with the PGA Tour, which in turn has contracts with its television partners and the title sponsor. The group also has a contract with the host venue.
Getting canceled days before you were to start obviously brings forth unforeseen challenges. Much of the money had been paid, much of the work already done. So bills are due without — necessarily — the revenue that comes with them. West said the tournament had more than 300 rooms reserved at Innisbrook, and outings scheduled on the three other courses on site. All of that had to be canceled.
In addition to Valspar, which is signed on as a title sponsor through 2025, the tournament had numerous individual sponsors who bought various levels of hospitality.
With each sponsorship came some sort of pavilion, luxury box or tent — and the subsequent cost of putting it together.
“We have to work through each one,” West said. “We were 100% built, and there is a huge cost so we have to work with each sponsor. Some of them got value, if they were our ticket sponsor or our parking sponsor, and we sold a lot of that stuff. And we had certain sponsors who got exposure throughout the last year because of naming rights. So this is a slow and burdensome process. We want to do what is right and make sure they feel good about the situation.
“There is going to be a financial downfall and we have to do our best to mitigate all of that, use what reserves we have, see how the tour might help us, how Valspar can help us. Not every charity will get the amount we able to donate to them last year, so how can we help them the best? For some, our contribution might be a small part of their budget, but for others it could be really critical. We are trying to figure all of those things out. Are we likely to give $2.2 million again this year? Probably not.”
The tournament now known as the Valspar Championship was also canceled in 2001 due to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Bob Harig/ESPN.com
Making matters worse? Although the Valspar Championship and most events take out insurance for business interruption, a pandemic is not covered in such instances.
“We can’t go back to them at all,” she said.
So now what?
The business of taking down the infrastructure for a tournament that won’t happen continues. Almost as soon as word came down that the event would not go on, West put her staff and the various contractors to work to begin the dismantling process that she said will likely take two weeks. It took some two months to put it all together.
So in various stages this week were bleachers, hospitality tents, scoreboards and all manner of items signifying that something big was to take place.
Instead, it won’t happen, and the big picture is in play.
“It’s a tough situation for everybody, but there really was no choice,” West said. “We fully support Jay’s decision. We’ve got to figure this out as a country and there are a whole host of people who will be hurt by this, not just golf, not just sports, but everything. All we can do is look at our little piece of the world and try to move forward.”