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  1. Sports

For Valspar Championship, the effects of a pandemic will linger

John Romano | The PGA Tour event still has money to donate to local charities, but its bottom line will take a hit after being cancelled days before it was set to begin.

The gallows humor began before the last putt even dropped.

The folks in charge of the Valspar Championship were firing off text messages to each other while sitting at home Sunday watching NBC and the Golf Channel replay their 2018 tournament at Innisbrook.

“I bet he makes this putt."

“Do you think Paul Casey will hang on to win?"

Even after spending the week tearing down infrastructure and figuring out how to pay the bills, and while stuck at home on the weekend they had spent a year preparing for, there was no sense bemoaning a tournament that will forever be lost on the 2020 calendar.

“Let’s put this all in perspective: There are a lot of people hurting in this country in a major way, not only people who are sick but what’s happening economically," said tournament director Tracy West. “For us to even have one moment of sadness is completely ridiculous given what people are really going through.

“In the end, it’s a golf tournament. Yes, it impacts lives and impacts charities and so forth. But nothing compared to what folks are going through. There were no tears on this end, for sure. It was more light-hearted, trying to find a smile somehow."

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That doesn’t mean the past week was easy. Because of the timing, the Valspar may have had the most financially precarious situation on the PGA Tour. A significant amount of money had already been spent to prepare for the tournament, which was scheduled to begin just days before tour commissioner Jay Monahan announced the cancellation of the Players Championship and several other events on March 13.

That meant vendors needed to be paid for the work they had already completed at Innisbrook. It meant fans would get refunds for tickets purchased. It meant sponsors had to be called to discuss the impact of their investments for a tournament that was almost played.

Most ominously of all, it meant the non-profit tournament had to make some tough calls with charities.

A year ago, the Valspar generated $2.2 million in donations. Because some charities are paid throughout the year, and because some donations were already earmarked prior to the tournament, West said Valspar could still top $1 million in donations in 2020.

As for future ramifications, she said Valspar will have no problems staging the 2021 tournament but they’re still a long way from getting a clear picture of the financial losses. Because of a change in the PGA Tour schedule, next year’s Valspar is expected to be played in late April, putting it halfway between the Masters and the PGA Championship.

“It’s way too early for us to talk about individual finances. We’re refunding tickets, trying to make people whole as best we can, making sure that the vendors that did work are fully paid," West said. “There were some expenses we were able to minimize based on the timing of when we were cancelled, for example food orders. So we’re still working through everything to figure out what it means to us."

It didn’t make it any easier that the weekend weather would have been spectacular for the tournament, and that three of the world’s top five players (Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas and Dustin Johnson) had been scheduled to play.

Casey, the defending two-time champion, said he was bummed about missing the chance to play but was more concerned about people in the community.

“I’m disappointed not to be able to defend Valspar, but certainly the situation is no longer about golf," Casey said last week in a conference call from his Arizona home. “It’s a whole plethora of things now; it’s worrying about people’s safety, people’s health, the economic impact of that ... I think it’s important that hopefully the impact of not having the 2020 Valspar Championship doesn’t affect too many people. There will still be money going to charities which is an amazing thing that Tracy West and her team can still donate over a $1 million."

John Romano can be reached at jromano@tampabay.com . Follow @romano_tbtimes.

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