Opinion: Sports in the time of coronavirus? The games we love look very different
Fort Collins Coloradoan
BERTHOUD — Even the portable restrooms require social distancing.
Sort of. I’ll explain soon.
Someone driving by the TPC Colorado could be forgiven for not even realizing pro golfers were playing the golf course this past week.
From afar it looks just like any random league night.
The reality is a highly planned, detailed maneuver to pull off a professional tournament in the middle of a pandemic.
Pro sports do not look or feel the same while the battle against the coronavirus pandemic continues.
Here’s what pro sports in the era of COVID-19 look like as shown this week at the TPC Colorado Championship at Heron Lakes.
The fields: It’s time to understand that coronavirus will impact competition as long as the virus remains prevalent. Players on the Korn Ferry Tour are tested before taking the course, and three — Brandon Wu, Taylor Mongomery and Jonathan Hodge — had to withdraw from the TPC Colorado Championship before it started due to positive tests. They were the first positives on the tour out of 247 tests since the re-start in June.
Testing all around: While participants go through COVID tests, the select few others on the course — mostly volunteers and media members — still have a screening to pass. When I drove up to the course, I was asked if I’ve been feeling sick or knowingly been around anyone sick. If the answer is no, my temperature is taken. If I clear that test, I get a wristband of approval and can park and enter the course.
All the social distancing: Masks were expected to be worn inside, and the vast majority of people complied during the week. Media work stations were spread out for social distancing. Portable restrooms dotting the course were broken into two types. One is a “restricted restroom” for those have passed a COVID-19 test, and the other is an “unrestricted restroom” for those who only went through a health screening. The idea is to keep the participants separate from the “public” who may unknowingly be carrying coronavirus.
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No fans, no buzz: The tournament claimed it hit record attendance compared with the inaugural event a year ago. Players who were there could be heard on the course this week telling newcomers about last year’s party-like atmosphere. Not this year. The course was dead quiet with no fans allowed. Volunteers and media members could hear conversations from golfers and caddies. The weirdest is when a player hits a great shot or sinks a long putt and there’s … nothing. A “nice shot” from playing partners is as close as it gets to a noticeable recognition of anything special.
Hand sanitizer and no high-fives: There are hand sanitizer bottles available at almost every hole for players to use. Many caddies remove the flagstick with a sanitizing wipe in their hand to avoid sharing germs. Watching a playing group walk off the final hole is worth a chuckle. Some just put their head down and beeline for the scoring tent. Others do air high-fives and fist bumps. No one is quite sure the best way to sign off a round.
Player isolation: Traveling all season trying to earn a PGA Tour card is a lonely lifestyle in the best of times, now even more so. No dinners out. No hanging out with friends on the Korn Tour Ferry after rounds. The risk of getting the coronavirus is too high, especially for players struggling to earn money. Instead it’s a lot of dinners alone in the hotel or Airbnb.
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I’ve come to hate the phrase “the new normal” and hope to never be comfortable with this neutered version of sports.
Here’s hoping we can bring the fans back to the fray soon.
Follow Kevin Lytle at twitter.com/Kevin_Lytle and at facebook.com/KevinSLytle. Coloradoan Sports can also be followed on Twitter. If you don’t already, please support local journalism at Coloradoan.com/subscribe.
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