SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — For the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic, golf is gearing up to welcome tens of thousands of spectators to a tourney, and its efforts to protect fans from the virus will include a surprising secret weapon: quartz countertops.
The Sanford International golf tournament in Sioux Falls Sept. 7-13 will be the PGA's first event with spectators, even as South Dakota's number of active COVID-19 cases hits an all-time high, with no local safety restrictions in place.
But organizers of the PGA Tour Champions event say they're working hard to guard against any spread of COVID-19, and have publicized the battery of safety measures put in place to help ward off the virus at Minnehaha Country Club: social distancing procedures, no autographs allowed and temperature checks. Also, quartz countertops.
While the PGA announced its Tour events for the remainder of the year would go spectator-free, Sanford International organizers announced in May and July they still intended to welcome fans to the tournament, which hosted about 74,000 spectators over the five-day event last year.
“As the management team of the Sanford International, Pro Links Sports has engaged with Sanford Health, the City of Sioux Falls, State of South Dakota and the PGA Tour Champions to ensure that all individuals in attendance at Minnehaha Country Club will be able to enjoy the week safely," said Josh Brewster, tournament director of the Sanford International, in a July 15 tweet announcement.
Title sponsor Sanford Health, a health system based in Sioux Falls, will test golfers and caddies daily for COVID-19 at mobile testing labs, as it has been for all PGA events. Major sponsor Cambria, a Minnesota-based company that makes quartz countertops, is installing its products at many places in the event, and touting them for their virus-resistant properties, making them a somewhat unlikely star of pandemic preparation.
The quartz countertops consist of the ground-up mineral bonded by resin into a hard surface. The result, unlike fully natural surfaces like marble, is a nonporous, nonabsorbent countertop. Usually this is a selling point for places like hospitals. But 2020 is no ordinary year for marketing quartz countertops.
"The end result is a surface that is as safe as stainless steel, so this is something that has, with the pandemic, become hypersensitive," said Summer Kath, Cambria's executive vice president of design. "This is something we’ve always touted, but I think this year is our moment to really shout from the rooftops about how safe our surface is."
'Refreshing to see some fans'
Playing with some fans nearby will be something of a relief, said Minnesota-based professional golfer and event spokesman Tim "Lumpy" Herron, who has competed in other events with no spectators in sight.
"It’s different. It’s kind of like you’re going out with your buddy going to play, so you got to self-motivate yourself and get going," he said. "So when we’re at Sanford, I think it’s going to be refreshing to see some fans and have some energy."
South Dakota never saw an expected mid-June surge in the virus. It was home to a major COVID-19 outbreak among workers at the Smithfield Foods meat processing plant in Sioux Falls, but it never implemented statewide restrictions on businesses or masking mandates.
The state saw a relatively flat number of new virus cases this summer, even as in July it welcomed a large crowd to a fireworks show headlined by President Donald Trump at Mount Rushmore and played host to a Professional Bull Riders event in Sioux Falls.
But August brought a surge of new cases. The state's number of active cases have more than doubled since Aug. 1 and as of Aug. 27 stands at 2,000, although the number hospitalizations have remained relatively low and steady. Still state officials have said they have no plants to call for any statewide restrictions or mandates.
State health officials have largely attributed the rise in new cases to increased activity among younger people. But the state Department of Transportation logged about 460,000 vehicles who visited the Sturgis motorcycle rally from across the nation. At the moment, more than 170 cases in nine states have been linked to the event, as case counts and contact tracing continues.