AKRON — The third edition of the Bridgestone Senior Players Championship at Firestone Country Club in Akron will mark the second time the tournament has been held during a pandemic.
Unlike 2020, though, fans will be allowed when the major event on the PGA Tour Champions circuit tees off in late June.
Don Padgett III, the tournament's executive director, said the tournament "wasn't quite the same" without fans last year.
Asked if there was an attendance limit for the 2021 event, which will be held at Firestone from June 24-27, Padgett sounded confident that the tournament wouldn't be reaching any capacity restrictions.
"We're on over 150 acres, so we feel like we'll have a safe event," the Bridgestone Senior Players executive director said. "We've worked with state and local authorities. The regulations continue to change, but we know we'll be able to have thousands of spectators on site and feel like we'll have a normal event each day at Firestone."
Safety will continue to be top of mind, but the tournament, being outside on an expansive space, has a couple things in its favor as it brings back some of the things that prior to last year had become staples for professional golf at Firestone.
The Bridgestone is going with a "Summerfest" theme for a tournament that was won by Jerry Kelly in 2020 and Retief Goosen in 2019.
The Sunrise Jones, a local group that is serving as the house band for the first two days of the NFL draft in Cleveland, will kick off the Bridgestone's Concerts After Play with a performance on June 25. The Shootouts, a Northeast Ohio country band, will play the following day, and the Akron Symphony Orchestra will close out the festivities with a 30-musician "American Bandstand" showcase after the final round on June 27.
Padgett said a stage will be set up on the driving range, and the orchestra will start their performance after the trophy ceremony.
"We encourage people to come out, bring your lawn chairs, bring your blankets," he said. "We have 10-plus acres on that driving range for people to spread out and enjoy it."
In an effort to drum up interest for the post-round concerts, the Bridgestone for the first time will offer free admission, space permitting, after 4 p.m.
There also will be food trucks, including selections from Slyman's Tavern, at Firestone throughout the event.
Tickets start at $10 for June 23 and are available beginning at $18 for each of the four tournament rounds.
"I think there's a pent-up demand for people to go outside and enjoy these type of events," Padgett said.
Pro-am remains a popular draw
A field of 81 pros will be on hand at Firestone.
Last year's event, even without fans, raised $750,000 for Northeast Ohio charities, putting the tournament over the $30 million mark in charitable contributions.
A major reason that the 2020 tournament fell just $75,000 short of the total that was raised in 2019 (an event with fans in attendance) is the continued success of the pro-ams.
The events, which feature groups who pay a sizable fee to play with the pros, have regularly sold out the last three years. (The 2019 pro-ams were the first at Firestone in 21 years.)
As was the case in 2019 and 2020, the pro-am scheduled for Wednesday of tournament week reached its capacity of 56 groups of four amateurs and one Champions tour pro. As a result, the Bridgestone again added a second pro-am at Firestone, which will be held Monday, June 21.
That event, according to the Bridgestone's website, calls for foursomes to pay $16,000 "plus applicable taxes" to play a round of golf with a pro, get VIP parking passes for the day, plus breakfast and an awards lunch. The groups also get access to all of the events at the Bridgestone Senior Players Championship, along with a pair of VIP parking passes.
There's also a pro-am slated for Westfield Country Club on June 24 that is sold out, Padgett said.
"The pro-am has continued to be popular," the tournament's executive director said.
In 2020, participants were tested for COVID-19 prior to the pro-am.
This year, golfers who have been vaccinated don't need to pass a test. Those who haven't been fully vaccinated will be tested, Padgett said.
Fans who are planning on attending the 2021 tournament at Firestone can review the PGA Tour's health and safety protocols here.