SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — The first sign the Sanford International golf tournament was going to be different than all others before it was clear before attendees even got their tickets checked: Temperature gauge stands at the entrance to the event, a quick check against a bare wrist, a green bar flashed across an adjacent screen.

"You're good," the tournament worker said.

This is professional golf in the time of a pandemic. The Sanford International PGA Tour Champions tournament, with the first round Friday, Sept. 11 in Sioux Falls, is the first PGA event to be held amid the pandemic with spectators, and the steps taken to reduce COVID-19 transmission were hard to miss.

Hand sanitizer stations were ubiquitous at the event, which is sponsored by Sioux Falls-based health system Sanford Health. Next to a stack of hats in the merchandise store was a stack of free-to-take blue masks, a common site around the clubhouse, too. Frequent signage, especially on the entrances to the clubhouse, emphasized the importance of social distancing and mask use.

Chairs had been replaced with bleachers at the largely outdoors event, and the bleachers featured stickers reminding people to space apart as a way of socially distancing. Other signs warned "no autographs" -- again to reduce the chances of COVID-19 transmission with the players.

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Volunteers watch the arch of a ball as they stand next to the leaderboard at the Sanford International PGA Tour Champions golf tourney in Sioux Falls on Friday, Sept. 11. (Jeremy Fugleberg / Forum News Service)
Volunteers watch the arch of a ball as they stand next to the leaderboard at the Sanford International PGA Tour Champions golf tourney in Sioux Falls on Friday, Sept. 11. (Jeremy Fugleberg / Forum News Service)



Last year's Sanford International welcomed about 74,000 fans to its week of events and the weekend tourney. This year, chillier weather, including a rain-soaked first day of the tournament, will likely dampen turnout, serving as a check on COVID-19 transmission by itself.

Of those spectators that braved the cool weather and rain showers on Friday, mask-wearing was hit and miss. Even as COVID-19 has surged in the past month in South Dakota, Gov. Kristi Noem said she had no plan to implement restrictions such as masking mandate. However, many stores require, or request, that patrons wear masks.

The mishmash of masking guidance means living in South Dakota in a pandemic is for some, a very Midwestern ritual based more on not causing offense than any health guidance. Many people wear a mask based on what everyone else is doing, wincing as they face stares for wearing, or not wearing, masks. At the Sanford International, however, there seemed to be little stigma against mask wearing.

Bleacher seats were added to this year's Sanford International PGA Tour Champions golf tournament to make it easier for people to socially distance, as a precaution against the spread of COVID-19. The event, which kicked off in Sioux Falls, South Dakota on Friday, Sept. 11, is the PGA's first amid the pandemic to welcome spectators. (Jeremy Fugleberg / Forum News Service)
Bleacher seats were added to this year's Sanford International PGA Tour Champions golf tournament to make it easier for people to socially distance, as a precaution against the spread of COVID-19. The event, which kicked off in Sioux Falls, South Dakota on Friday, Sept. 11, is the PGA's first amid the pandemic to welcome spectators. (Jeremy Fugleberg / Forum News Service)

One couple that was carefully masked up under a shared umbrella watched as golfer John Daly, in his signature brightly colored pants, sank a birdie putt on the first hole of Friday's opening round.

Dave and Janet Quamen of Crooks, S.D., were on their first fun outing of the pandemic, if you don't count trips to the grocery store. For the second year in a row, Janet Quamen had won tickets to the tournament and they said they felt comfortable with the pandemic preparations at the course.

They mentioned getting their temperatures checked both before getting on the parking shuttle and before entering the tournament grounds at the Minnehaha Country Club as particularly notable.

"People are far enough apart," Dave Quamen said. "People are wearing masks, not everyone, but quite a few."

John Daly and his caddie watch the path of his ball in the first round of play at the Sanford International PGA Tour Champions golf tournament in Sioux Falls, Friday, Sept. 11. The tourney was the PGA's first to allow spectators during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Jeremy Fugleberg / Forum News Service)
John Daly and his caddie watch the path of his ball in the first round of play at the Sanford International PGA Tour Champions golf tournament in Sioux Falls, Friday, Sept. 11. The tourney was the PGA's first to allow spectators during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Jeremy Fugleberg / Forum News Service)

Players and their caddies have maintained strict testing -- provided to the PGA by Sanford Health -- and isolation protocols to avoid getting ill.

Media were repeatedly warned Friday to stay away from golfers and caddies if they went inside the rope lines on the course to take photos, and masks were required of all members of the press inside the media center inside the clubhouse.

Hole marshal Rodger Lacy of Sioux Falls, poses with his tiger mask near the 10th hole at the Sanford International PGA Tour Champions golf tournament in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, on Friday, Sept. 11. The tourney was the PGA's first to allow spectators amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Jeremy Fugleberg / Forum News Service)
Hole marshal Rodger Lacy of Sioux Falls, poses with his tiger mask near the 10th hole at the Sanford International PGA Tour Champions golf tournament in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, on Friday, Sept. 11. The tourney was the PGA's first to allow spectators amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Jeremy Fugleberg / Forum News Service)

Tour staff and volunteers were noticeably uniformly masked. Rodger Lacy of Sioux Falls, hole marshal at the 10th hole, stood out in a tiger face mask he said his wife picked out as a gift for donating to the San Diego Zoo. The whiskers on the mask matched almost perfectly with Lacy's own set of white whiskers that ringed the mask.

"One of the players asked, 'Does the hair come with the mask?'" Lacy recounted, reporting he replied, "No, that's natural grown."