LPGA Tour planning to host fans, pro-ams in early August

Lexi Thompson LPGA

Lexi Thompson walks among fans at the 2019 Marathon Classic.

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The LPGA Tour, which returns in late July at two events in northwestern Ohio, is hopeful to become one of the first sports leagues in America to host spectators during an event.

The Marathon Classic, from August 6-9, is currently slated to host 2,000 fans per day at Highland Meadows Golf Club, with an ultimate decision — with input from local health officials — on spectators expected to come at the end of this week. If the decision is “no fans,” the event will go on uninterrupted.

The PGA Tour was originally hoping to host fans this week at Muirfield Village in Columbus, Ohio, but spikes in new cases in the state (and Columbus specifically) led the tournament to keep spectators from tournament grounds. That tour has subsequently announced there will be no fans on-site until at least mid-September.

LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan spoke with reporters Wednesday and noted how the tour is comfortable with that number. They are also comfortable with running two pro-ams on the Tuesday and Wednesday of tournament week. 

Pro-ams are often used as a means of sponsorship value with LPGA partners and have proven valuable in running events. Whan put it quite bluntly Wednesday: “If we can’t play pro-ams, the LPGA is going to have some challenges.”

Much as pro-ams would extend the tour’s “bubble,” Whan clarified that all participants will be tested for the coronavirus, and the format will change slightly. There will be no scramble, a popular pro-am format, and instead players will play their own ball. Participants will ride in carts while professional players will walk. 

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Whan also detailed the LPGA Tour’s plans for a safe return to competition. The protocols in place are very similar to that of the PGA Tour, in which players will take at-home tests for Covid-19 and get tested again before arriving at the tournament site. A $5,000 stipend will be issued to LPGA players who test positive on-site, and a charter plane will be used after the first two tournaments in Ohio.

The LPGA Tour was in the middle of a normal break in its annual schedule when the coronavirus spread quickly across the United States, making the decision for the tour to delay its return an easy one. Its first event in more than five months is scheduled to begin on July 31.

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