BMW Championship still hoping to have spectators

Organizers of the FedEx Cup playoff event near Chicago understandably took pause last week when their Illinois neighbor, the John Deere Classic, opted to cancel this year's tournament rather than play without spectators.

"When Deere canceled, we were surprised that happened; it's unfortunate," said John Kaczkowski, president and CEO of the Western Golf Association, which runs the BMW Championship, the second of three FedEx Cup playoff events.

"But we understand. There are a lot of mitigating factors. We are in the same state, but we're looking at it this way: There are six weeks between our event and the John Deere. A lot can happen. Look at where we were six weeks ago. We're still hopeful we will have spectators."

Organizers of the John Deere Classic in Silvis, Illinois, decided it would not be worth the financial hit to play the tournament in 2020 -- although the state's coronavirus pandemic restrictions undoubtedly played a part. Scheduled for July 9-12, the John Deere will wait until 2021 while the PGA Tour attempts to find a replacement event in short order as the tour schedule resumes next week at the Charles Schwab Championship.

The BMW Championship, which used to be known as the Western Open and dates to 1899, is scheduled to be played at Olympia Fields Country Club in suburban Chicago on Aug. 27-30. That's a week later than originally scheduled after the tour revamped the schedule.

Kaczkowski said the tournament is looking at three scenarios: business as usual, which he admits is unlikely; no spectators; or an event with a limited number of spectators.

"Our hope is we can work with the local authorities, state authorities, the tour and BMW to do a limited-spectator event," he said. "But it's a best guess as to what is most likely. It's really hard. Every state is different. Once events start happening and people can see that it is possible to do it, then we can see how it will work.

"I think more events can happen when they are run responsibly. We probably won't have college football games with 100,000 spectators this fall. But golf is a little different. You can use social distancing and do other protective measures. There is a lot of space. You at least have the real estate to spread out."

Kaczkowski said BMW, which is located in Germany and sponsors several other tournaments around the world, has been supportive and wants to push forward.

All tournaments face significant financial constraints that are greatly impacted without spectators.

"There's no deep-pocketed owner that will be the ultimate backstop like you see in most of the professional leagues," Kaczkowski said. "There a lot of organizations that put in money to make a successful tour event, namely the title sponsor and the PGA Tour. At the end of the day, the host organization relies on local sponsors, spectators and pro-ams.

"And no spectators is not a great financial model. Hopefully you've taken money in prior years to create a reserve for situations like this. With limited spectators, we can do OK financially."