We’re less than a week away from the third annual Sanford International, and final preparations are nearly complete.
Even though the golf tournament is now visually starting to take shape, leaders at Sanford Health started planning for the tournament long ago. In fact, they started planning the day after last year’s Sanford International.
“When we finished 2019, we were immediately planning for what’s coming in 2020,” said Sanford Health executive vice president Micah Aberson.
This week, crews are putting the finishing touches on the stands, sets and signs. Groundskeepers are working tirelessly to ensure the course is pristine. With practice rounds starting Sept. 7, there’s a feeling of electricity building at the Minnehaha Country Club in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Planning and preparing for the Sanford International is a busy, yearlong process itself. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed everything — including what’s needed to pull off a tournament of this magnitude.
However, all that extra work makes the tournament all the more rewarding, says Sanford International tournament director Josh Brewster.
“It’s certainly an interesting time to be organizing a golf tournament. So, to get to this point, to know that we’re going to do this deal next week, it’s huge for us. We’re thrilled to be doing this. It’s a huge responsibility, but we’re really excited for it,” he said.
Brewster and Aberson say because Sanford Health has been a leader against COVID-19 since the pandemic started, the Sanford International is a safe event to attend. This will be the first PGA TOUR event with fans since March. Leaders have prepared new policies to keep both spectators and players safe.
“We’re going at this with a very cautious approach. We have a lot of good steps to keep people safe,” said Brewster.
Brewster adds that fans will have their temperature checked daily. If their temperature is above 100.4, they’ll have to watch from home that day. He also says that masks will be provided to spectators each day.
Aberson says there will be a big emphasis on distancing and hygiene.
“We’ll have hand-washing and sanitation stations set up throughout the golf course. More prepackaged foods, distance between folks at lines. We’ll have bleachers this year, as opposed to individual seats, so people can find the appropriate distance between themselves and the person sitting next to them.
“There’ll be a number of things throughout the golf course, but at the end of the day, it comes down to personal responsibility and accountability,” said Aberson.
He adds that this type of tournament and event provides a great opportunity to social distance.
“There’s nothing like the canvas of a wide open golf course, where folks can head out on certain holes, and you’re more than a three wood away from the next person. We encourage people to come out, enjoy the golf, be back for the first tournament with spectators, and have a fun time watching the best golfers around,” said Aberson.
Planning for players
Because of the uncertainty that’s surrounded the COVID-19 pandemic, Aberson and others at Sanford Health weren’t sure which players would and wouldn’t come and compete. However, because Sanford Health has been so proactive in the fight against the coronavirus, Brewster says players trust this tournament.
This has led to a field of players that “have never been better,” says Brewster.
The field includes 23 PGA Tour major champions, eight members of the World Golf Hall of Fame, and the top five players on the Charles Schwab Cup money list. Popular and familiar names like Ernie Els, Fred Couples, Steve Stricker, Bernhard Langer, and John Daly will tee it up in Sioux Falls.
Each and every player will be tested, and they’ll have to test negative before they set foot on the golf course.
“All the Pro-Am participants that will play with the PGA Tour champions on Wednesday and Thursday will also be tested. Certain volunteers that come in close player contact will be tested, restaurant and waitstaff at Minnehaha Country Club will be tested,” said Aberson.
“We’re taking all the appropriate precautions for the players that will be inside the clubhouse. The players are sort of insulated from normal spectators that come to the golf course. There’ll be appropriate distancing and roping that will allow for a necessary distance between player and spectator.”
Working with community
As opening day continues to draw near, efforts to get the Minnehaha Country Club ready were ramped up. Not just by Sanford Health, but also sponsoring businesses and volunteers in the Sioux Falls area.
Brewster says there were more sponsors on board with the tournament this year, which has made setting the stage easier than ever, all despite the pandemic.
“We have a ton of great vendors that we work with to do any number of things,” said Brewster. “We always like to get money back to the local economy. It’s been a collaborative effort like none other, especially this year. Dealing with the pandemic, and doing things differently than we have in the past. I’d say we have upwards of 25 different people in different companies that help us pull this together.”
Brewster adds that being able to safely plan a major golf tournament in the midst of a pandemic “says everything about Sanford Health.”
“They’ve worked tirelessly with me and my team trying to come up with a game plan to do this safety. They understand the economics of this golf tournament, and what we provide to the community. We have an impact of $18 million. It’s a huge responsibility, and we have to do it safely. And, Sanford Health has preached safety since day one. We’ve got a great plan.”
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