September Tour Championship at East Lake to be played sans fans

There'll be no great gathering of golf fans at East Lake and the Tour Championship this year - as there was for Tiger Woods during his 2018 victory. (Hyosub Shin/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Credit: Hyosub Shin

Credit: Hyosub Shin

Facing the reality of the current spike in coronavirus cases, the season-ending Tour Championship at East Lake announced Monday it would stage the September tournament without fans present.

An event that featured the rousing moment of a huge gallery overrunning the fairway to trail Tiger Woods up No. 18 during his 2018 victory will host the PGA Tour’s top 30 in FedEx Cup points on a vacant course.

“There is nothing that makes up for the fans, right?” said Allison Fillmore, the tournament’s executive director. “They bring the energy. They make it fun for the players. They make it exciting. But I’m hoping the guys can put that aside and really focus on play to make it a super dramatic finish here.”

The PGA Tour had held out optimism that the coronavirus pandemic would recede by mid-summer, hoping to reintroduce fans as early as this week’s Memorial Tournament in Ohio. But the current course of the pandemic moved the Tour to declare it would be going without fans on site through the rest of the season, concluding at Atlanta’s East Lake Golf Club on Sept. 4-7.

“It was a Tour decision with a whole bunch of collaboration with the city, with our partners, with our charitable partners,” Fillmore said. “With cases spiking right now, we all felt it would be best to take into consideration the health of our fans, our volunteers, our partners and our players.”

Play resumed in early June following a three-month absence. There have been five events held thus far without fans, with seven more scheduled – including two weeks of the playoffs – before the Tour Championship. Justin Thomas this weekend assumed the lead in the FedEx Cup points standings.

The loss of ticket revenue is a substantial blow to the Tour Championship, which reported a $3.5 million donation to its charities built around a long-standing neighborhood revival project. Fillmore said the tournament would be looking for alternate sources of income – including direct fan donation – to try to bridge the gap for its chosen charities: The East Lake Foundation, the Grove Park Foundation, Purpose Built Schools Atlanta and First Tee of Metro Atlanta. Fans can contribute directly through PGA Tour Charities Inc.

“It has been a trying time, definitely one of the toughest in my career. Ultimately if we can get through this tournament and be able to provide some type of charitable impact for the charities we serve, that’s so important right now,” Fillmore said. “I would hate to miss a year, hate to not be able to provide support for these awesome charities. We’re going to be really pushing the Atlanta community to help.”

There is no way, however, to make up for the disappointment of not being able to stage the tournament before a live, vibrant audience.

“The most exciting thing for my job is to see the fans and our partners and their excitement when they see their favorite player coming down the fairway or on the green. Yes, it is a bummer,” Fillmore said.

Her job now, Fillmore said, is “more about focusing on the relationships with our valued (sponsorship) partners and volunteers, making sure that they understand what is going on, what is happening moving forward. And then focusing on 2021. Our partners have been really, really great. They have been patient with us, and we’re asking them to be a little more patient with us as we get through all this.”

The Tour Championship announced that online ticket purchasers for this year’s event would receive automatic refunds. Additional refund information is available at tourchampionship.com.