The LPGA will be playing the ANA Inspiration in a COVID-19 bubble that, alas, is not air-conditioned
RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. — How do you prefer your golfers, baked or fried? Or maybe parboiled by a dip in Poppie’s Pond adjacent to the 18th green? Guaranteed that none of them will be undercooked this week.
The heat is likely to dominate conversations at the ANA Inspiration, upstaging talk even of the COVID-19 pandemic that’s responsible for postponing this LPGA major championship from its scheduled start in April to the first full week in September.
It finally will commence on Thursday on the Dinah Shore Tournament Course at Mission Hills Country Club, albeit without its defending champion, Jin Young Ko, who like several South Korean golfers has yet to resume play on the LPGA Tour since the restart. It will be played within a bubble designed to shelter players, caddies, tour and tournament officials and the media from possible exposure to the coronavirus.
There won’t be any fans on site, not that many would have turned out to watch golf in a furnace. The snowbirds from northern climes who swell the population of the Coachella Valley in the fall and winter months have yet to return, and the locals know enough to stay indoors.
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Temperatures in this Southern California desert town were 120 degrees on Saturday, 119 degrees on Sunday and peaked at 110 on Monday, 10 degrees below forecasts. Nonetheless, Death Valley, generally a prohibitive thermometer favorite, might have played Rancho Mirage to a draw on these days.
One of the players, Anne van Dam, tweeted that the iPad she uses in conjunction with her TrackMan overheated after two minutes on the range on Monday, her iPhone after eight minutes.
Fortunately for all involved, a cooling trend is in the forecast, cooling being relative. Forecasted temperatures range from 104 Tuesday to 109 on Sunday.
“We as tournament organizers knew it was going to be hot,” Alyssa Randolph, the ANA tournament manager, said. “We’ll have new coolers and new cooler stands that hold more water. We’ll have 1,500 ice towels. Caddies can use golf carts, and so can players Monday through Wednesday.”
Randolph also cited a “a laundry list of 20 other items” to help counter the stifling heat, as well as noting that tournament officials will issue frequent reminders to players and caddies to stay hydrated.
Planning and operating a professional golf tournament in a COVID-19 bubble is challenging enough without the additional concern of dehydration, heat exhaustion or worse. Each country, state and county has its own guidelines and rules and they’re a moving target for those in golf attempting to plan ahead.
For instance, for the two LPGA events in Scotland, the Ladies Scottish Open and the Women’s British Open, the Scottish government mandated that all contestants stay in the same hotel.
Riverside County, of which Rancho Mirage is a part, did not require that all 105 golfers playing the ANA Inspiration stay in the host hotel, the Westin Mission Hills Resort. The players also had the option of staying at Airbnb homes.
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Defending champion Jin Young Ko will not be playing this week at the ANA as she remains in her native South Korea still yet to compete on the LPGA Tour since the restart of the season in July.
The county still has restrictions against indoor dining, though many restaurants offer patio seating. The players, however, are encouraged only to get food to go.
Even before leaving for California, players and caddies were required to be tested for COVID-19. When they arrived in Rancho Mirage, they had to be immediately tested again before being allowed onto the premises at Mission Hills.
The gated community of Mission Hills and the country club inside its gates, meanwhile, present their own set of concerns for those operating the bubble. The golf course wends its way between houses and condos without fences separating them from the course. It’s all too easy for interested residents to wander out to the course to watch the golf.
“We’ll have security and those enforcing on the property lines,” Randolph said. “Can they watch from their homes on back patios? Of course.” But in keeping the bubble intact, they won’t be allowed to venture beyond course property lines.
Then there are the two additional courses at Mission Hilld, the Arnold Palmer Course and the Pete Dye Course. Those courses will remain open to members, as they always have been while the tournament is being played.
“Members aren’t allowed to enter the clubhouse,” Randolph said. “Only those inside the bubble. Members will get into their own carts and go straight to the first tees.
“I think the most challenging part was navigating in the beginning. When it was March 12 and postponed, we didn’t know exactly what the event would look like then. As we continued to navigate next several months, things continually changed. When we got to May and June, it looked different. It was probably about mid-July when we began to understand what the event would look like. It was ever changing, A through Z.”
What has not changed was the hot weather, other than the predictable fluctuations in temperature. The historical average high for Sept. 10 is 104 degrees. The record for that date is 115 degrees.
Whatever the temperature, it’ll be hot enough at times to melt the cover off a golf ball. Or so it’ll seem.