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On the Tee – Fans Appreciation

On the Tee

There were no fans at the Travelers Championship in 2020, and the daily crowd was limited to about 10,000 the following year. Such scant numbers were unprecedented at one of the PGA TOUR’s better-attended tournaments. But then, the COVD-19 pandemic was sadly unprecedented in its impact on all of us. The cheers from Travelers Championship fans, crowded in the natural amphitheater around the 18th green and spilling over to the adjoining hillsides, were vibrant again in June 2022. Now the volume didn’t reach the level of 2017 when Jordan Spieth said the “ground was shaking” after his playoff-winning bunker blast. Still, there were spirited applause and, no doubt, a few quivers in the Cromwell, Conn. countryside, when champion Xander Schauffele sank his birdie putt.

So, this is a salute to those upstanding fans who returned to TPC River Highlands and the vast majority of the other TOUR tournament venues that opened at full capacity for the 2021-22 season—the most since ‘18-19.

Here’s my basic fans’ lineup:

  • Admirers: Encourage their players, known only by first name or nickname, everywhere.
  • Campers: Find a spot, but don’t move and lose your place— unless it’s for food, drink or a restroom break.
  • Chasers: Stay with the leaders but be quick to track a new front runner.
  • Dawn breakers: Arrive on dewy turf that glistens in the first light of sunrise.
  • High risers: Dine well and enjoy vistas from corporate boxes.
  • Troublemakers: Hurl derogatory remarks at players, along with debris, such as beer cans, on the course —just two of their unwanted behaviors. Note: Don’t belong to this class.

Though some fans with lingering COVID-19 concerns remained home last season, many returned after some tournaments had been cancelled and others had restricted crowd limits in 2020 and ’21.

Jubilant cheers for a pivotal final-round shot in that time often were memories. But last season when a vast majority of tournaments opened to full capacity after effective measures to deal with the pandemic had been implemented, memories transformed to realities. Matt Fitzpatrick’s fairway-bunker, 9-iron on the 72nd hole was one such stellar strike for his U.S. Open championship. Fans erupted in praise at The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts.

Players welcomed and were energized by such enthusiasm across the TOUR schedule. After winning the RBC Canadian Open, Rory McIlroy told reporters: “I mean the fans here have just been absolutely unbelievable, boisterous, loud, but respectful.”

The fans were as appreciative in the return of the tournament, which had been postponed by COVID-19 the previous two years.

To be so close—say, within two club lengths—from witnessing any player’s shot is a treasured inclusion for TOUR fans. That’s because other professional sports’ spectators during competition can’t be on an NFL field, Premier League pitch,

Major League Baseball diamond or an NBA court. But to be on the same course as a TOUR player? TOUR fans can.

Tournaments’ charitable giving, which is aided by fans’ buying tickets and concessions, was a notable benefit from last season. For example, the Waste Management Phoenix Open, regarded as the TOUR’s highest-attended tournament (estimated over 500,000 for the week), gave $10.5 million to Arizona charities. This followed $3.85 million in ‘21. Tournaments under the TOUR umbrella have totaled more than $3.37 billion in donations to date. In 2019—one year before the pandemic significantly struck the TOUR—$204 million was donated. The numbers were $160 million in ‘20 and $173 million in ‘21. Based on this trend, the ‘22 total is expected to be more. The number will be announced early in ‘23.

“The fans mean everything,” Travelers Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer Andy Bessette said. “. . . They are so smart, understand and are so committed to the community and charity.” So, from this corner of the course here’s a tip of my cap to those admirers, campers, chasers, dawn breakers and high risers.