Last Thursday the PGA TOUR became the first major American-based sport to announce a resumption of its tournament schedule — albeit significantly revised given the impact of the Covid-19 situation globally. The last completed event took place March 8 when Tyrell Hatton claimed the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard at Bay Hill in Orlando, FL. One round of The Players Championship took place March 12 before that event was stopped as well as all others previously scheduled.
Resumption of tournament play is planned for June 11-14 with the Charles Schwab Challenge in Fort Worth, Texas. Three other events are now scheduled — following the tournament in the Lone Star State will be the RBC Heritage, June 18-21, held on Hilton Head Island, SC, followed with competitions in Connecticut and Michigan respectively.
All four will not permit the public to attend.
Given the nature of the ever evolving situation tied to the pandemic, the planned PGA TOUR schedule is clearly subject to change.
The RBC Heritage generally occupies the week following The Masters event in early April. Although the event has been played at different times of the year — originally commencing in the fall before settling on a spring time frame — the June event clearly involves a range of opportunities and challenges.
Cary Corbitt, Vice President of Sports and Resort Operations at The Sea Pines Resort, was interviewed to give a broader overview on what lies ahead on all fronts.
The RBC Heritage is now rescheduled — dates the US Open previously occupied. How long have discussions been taking place regarding the switch with the PGA TOUR leadership?
With such a fluid situation, it wasn’t easy to make decisions. RBC and the PGA TOUR had some dialogue about the two RBC-hosted eventson the schedule and subsequently, brought in the Heritage Classic Foundation and The Sea Pines Resort into the discussions. There are still many particulars and specifics to be worked out and these discussions are ongoing.
Were any other dates for the event discussed besides the June time frame?
Not that we were aware.
Was the resort expecting the decision that galleries will not be permitted for the event?
How much of a financial impact will not having galleries cause for the event?
Without gallery significant revenue opportunities are lost, particularly food and beverage, merchandise sales, as well as sponsor and corporate hospitality. We are currently reviewing all pro-formas and economic scenarios, as we need to be responsible to our ownership.
How much dialogue has there been with State and Federal officials concerning the planned event? Related to that — is the resort prepared for a possible cancellation should evolving circumstances occur?
All the discussions with both state and federal officials took place prior the announcement. We (The Sea Pines Resort) were not part of these conversations. The Heritage Classic Foundation and City of Hilton Head needed to make sure all parties were comfortable before moving forward.
From the standpoint of staffing – how much of an impact has the Covid-19 situation caused for the resort and what actins have been taken?
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Covid-19 has had a huge impact on the resort and the local economy. We furloughed just under 500 employees—full time, part time and some salaried—and we are doing great things to support and keep in touch with them.
We want them to know that this is a furlough, not a termination by any means. We want and need them to come back when the time is right. And, we appreciate everything they do.
To that end, The Sea Pines Resort’s food and beverage team is making and offering fully-prepared meals 2 to 3 times each week on a complimentary basis to any furloughed employee who calls in advance to reserve.
We launched a program called Sea Pines Cares, which is an attractive package of discounts and benefits for consumers and past guests to purchase. The Sea Pines Care package costs $250: Of that, $125 per purchase will go to affected employees and $50 to the Heritage Classic Foundation, which supports local charities. Without ticket sales and galleries at the tournament, local charities need assistance, as well.
What kind of social distancing protocols is the resort implementing — both prior to the event and when the event takes place?
All of the sanitation protocols you might expect are in place resort-wide, most if not all, will remain in place during event. Additionally, there will be a set of procedures that the PGA Tour and RBC will require—social distancing, sanitation, testing—to ensure a completely safe environment. This is of utmost concern.
Do you see any impact on the planned field for the RBC Heritage?
I anticipate the players are anxious to get out and compete again. We know television spectators are starving for new content, and especially, sporting events. Golf is the perfect sport to manage social distancing in a safe outdoor environment. Essentially, this will be a made-for-television event.
Will those permitted for attendance — players, caddies, tournament officials, media — be routinely tested for temperature before entering the grounds?
We’re waiting for those protocols to come from PGA Tour. We expect stringent safety standards for screening and testing.
From the standpoint of overall reservations — where does the resort stand now versus a comparable time frame from ’19?
The resort has been closed so occupancies reflect that. Two of the three golf courses are still open — Harbour Town Golf Links closed on April 1. We are starting to take reservations for the June tournament timeframe, primarily from players and officials.
Images courtesy The Sea Pines Resort / Rob Tipton