The Golf Party in This Ohio Town Has It All, Except Fans

DUBLIN, Ohio — In a typical year, the Bogey Inn would be preparing to party this week. While PGA Tour golfers ply their trade at nearby Muirfield Village Golf Club, site of the Memorial Tournament, the sports bar would welcome an overflow crowd of fans to enjoy a live band on its expansive patio outfitted with a disco ball.

Mark Dombek, the restaurant’s general manager, said that in past years as many as 30,000 guests passed through its doors during tournament week. He was braced for a quieter scene this year as the event, a hallmark of central Ohio summers, will be played this weekend without fans because of concerns over the rise in coronavirus infections.

“We’ll probably only do 30 percent of what we might normally do this year,” Dombek said. “It’s going to be a massive hit for us.”

The tournament will again draw marquee golfers to the course designed by the Ohio native Jack Nicklaus and reconfigured to his specifications yearly to flummox top players. Daniel Sullivan, the tournament’s executive director, said that in normal years the Memorial generated $35 million to $40 million for the local economy, according to the most recent economic study from 10 years ago.

This summer, area hotels have seen a sharp downturn for what is usually their biggest revenue generator of the year. One nearby hotel estimated that it was only at 60 percent occupancy.

In June, Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio approved a plan for the event to host a limited number of fans — around 8,000 daily — but the PGA Tour scuttled it as infection rates climbed. Sullivan’s team had developed a task force to address the issue of fans and prepared for months to host back-to-back tournaments on the PGA Tour for the first time since 1957.

The reversal forced a logistical pivot at Muirfield, which also served as the site of last week’s Workday Charity Open. “We had every goal and intention of having fans,” Sullivan said. “Disappointing, no doubt, but completely out of everyone’s control.”

The Memorial staff had intended to use radio frequency identification technology in the badges distributed to fans, moving attendees through a system of so-called corrals where they could watch the action while a “patron ambassador” monitored the number of people walking into the space using the technology.

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Credit…Maddie McGarvey for The New York Times
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Credit…Maddie McGarvey for The New York Times

Anticipating that large crowds would try to follow Tiger Woods, who is returning from a five-month tour hiatus for the event, Sullivan said they were to have “a patron ambassador walking around with a paddle that said, ‘Be smart. Stand apart,” when Woods, a 15-time major champion, came near.

Jay Monahan, the PGA Tour commissioner, called the plan “as thorough as it could possibly be,” but said Wednesday that he ultimately decided to proceed without fans after looking at the rate of cases and getting input from players.

Woods acknowledged in his news conference on Tuesday that playing was a risk. “I know the tour has done a fantastic job of setting up the safety and trying to ensure that all of us are protected and are safe,” he said. “But it is a risk that we are now undertaking when we walk on the property and are around individuals that you don’t know where they’ve been or what they’ve been doing.”

For players who have experienced unprecedented changes to the PGA Tour calendar, adapted to new social distancing protocols at events and worried as peers and caddies tested positive for the coronavirus, the reversal on having fans at the Memorial has been just another adjustment in an unusual season.

Jon Rahm, the No. 2-ranked golfer in the world, said last week that coming to Ohio felt like a reprieve after the uptick of cases in his home state, Arizona. Rahm was among the tour golfers who remained in Ohio after playing the tournament last weekend at Muirfield, where Collin Morikawa defeated the No. 3-ranked Justin Thomas in a playoff.

The Workday provided a riveting Sunday, but no one expects Muirfield to play as friendly as it did last weekend, when the average round was a 72. The main challenge for this weekend, according to the course superintendent, Chad Mark, was ensuring the integrity of the course week-to-week. “One of my biggest worries was for our staff to let any of our egos get in the way of letting the course be any less than what we would do for the Memorial,” he said.

The tour was clear that greens would run faster this week and, with a major course renovation planned for after the Memorial ends, Mark said he was hoping his team could push for more challenging speed and firmness.

“We’re going to be comfortable doing that because we don’t have to turn the course back over to the members,” Mark said.

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Credit…Maddie McGarvey for The New York Times

Outside the club’s gates, the atmosphere around Dublin is significantly subdued. The Workday, fanless and stifling hot the first two days, took place in monastic silence. But Dombek, the restaurant manager, and his owner are still going to try to throw the best party possible.

The first of three oversize screens arrived at the Bogey Inn last Thursday, and the restaurant will use its large patio to bring in more tables to accommodate the golf fans who may still show up.

For the past five years, Paul Sorvold, a sales manager for a lighting manufacturer, has been bringing clients to the Bogey to celebrate tournament week, but he acknowledged that this weekend “no one is flying into Dublin if they can’t get into the tournament.”

Still, he plans to spend Friday night at the restaurant with his wife and some friends. “Our local businesses need us now more than ever,” he said.

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