The Ally Challenge 2020: A Look at Sports without Fans [Gallery]
When professional golf made it's return to Warwick Hills Golf & Country Club three years ago the community celebrated. Not for just the economic impact the event would have, much like the days of the Buick Open, but over the excitement hosting an event that would bring fans from everywhere to the area.
At the beginning of July, tournament officials made the announcement that as a result of the ongoing health and safety issues related to the coronavirus pandemic, and in accordance with the state of Michigan’s Safe Start Plan, the tournament would be played without fans. Also gone would be the popular Community Concert that has brought out musical acts such as Big & Rich and Dierks Bentley in past years.
With the current situation of the country, and pretty much the world, it was hard to imagine a sporting event that drew thousands in the past becoming just simply athletes playing a game. I headed out to Warwick Hills to see what exactly The Ally Challenge presented by McLaren would be like in a new normal for sporting events.
Precautions and safety measures were strongly enforced with not only the players, but the volunteer staff and the minimal media members. After crossing a empty cross walk usually filled with spectators and a heavy police presence, there were temperature screenings and credential checks. Players are kept separate in the "bubble" when not on the course, although they did do press interviews from a distance. Masks were required within the clubhouse and strongly suggested if you were close to players.
Quiet was the patio that overlooked the practice putting greens, and gone were the sponsor booths and concessions. The tees and greens were free of spectator grandstands and VIP tents. Player groups took to the course with only one volunteer to accompany them, sans the player/score attendants and the quiet signs. The course was just so quiet already there wasn't really a need for reminders.
Most notably seen on the course was the silence that was almost eerie on the infamous 17th hole. Known for being one the rowdiest on the PGA tour for years, the hole was almost unrecognizable. Tournament organizers did add a virtual fan board to the green. With a great shot, the sounds of fans cheering rang out. The large screen also played videos submitted by fans around the country cheering the players on.
The action on 17 was something the players themselves were really missing from this years tournament. “How frustrating, how disappointing that we can’t have fans because that area is such an exciting area for all of us the players and the fans,” said Brett Quigley. “You know coming in it is going to be loud - it is going to be fantastic. You just look forward to that energy and for it not to be there yesterday and finally hear some of it today was more back to normal golf because it is a little eerie out here not having fans.”
Even with the fans absent from the action, The Ally Challenge presented by McLaren still made supporting local charities their priority and gave fans a way to get involved and help out. This year they launched the Rise to the Challenge online charity auction giving fans a chance to bid on incredible auction items to help support their efforts of giving back to the community.
Take a look at what this years tournament was like. Here's hoping next year the course will be filled with fans and fun.