PGA Tour hopeful for return of fans, pushing ahead without

FILE - PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan reacts to a question during a news conference at The Players Championship golf tournament in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., in this Friday, March 13, 2020, file photo. Monahan says tournaments next year are prepared to break even without the return of fans.  (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara, File)
FILE - PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan reacts to a question during a news conference at The Players Championship golf tournament in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., in this Friday, March 13, 2020, file photo. Monahan says tournaments next year are prepared to break even without the return of fans. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara, File) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Amid hopes for the return of fans on the PGA Tour next year, Commissioner Jay Monahan says tournaments are prepared financially to do without and still break even on operating costs.

In a conference call Thursday to look back at a year dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic, Monahan said the tour was encouraged that a vaccine could lead to a “slow and steady increase” in how many fans are allowed at tournaments. Still, he said that would not be a decision by the tour alone.

The tour for the last five years had been pushing its tournaments — most are run autonomously — to build reserve funds to cope with a situation like what the pandemic presented.

By the end of the year, corporate sponsors were allowed to invite a limited number of clients. Pro-ams returned. The Houston Open was the first domestic event that had fans, selling 2,000 tickets a day. For early next year, most West Coast events have said they will not have fans.

The Phoenix Open is building a single-story structure for its rowdy 16th hole at the TPC Scottsdale, instead of what had been an enclosed stadium with seating for thousands.

“I would say that our tournaments are prepared to operate without fans and to do so on a break-even basis which, like reserves, allows you to continue to operate and continue to move your tournament forward,” Monahan said. “And we will try and be more creative and innovative about additional ways to raise money and help them.”

The tour has a remarkable model in which all income once operating costs are met is donated to local charities, and collectively it has raised more than $2 billion in its history.

With various programs that touched on longtime support, Monahan said PGA Tour events combined to raise $160 million this year, down from $204 million the previous year before the pandemic cut off a huge source of revenue.