CHAMPAIGN — Tom Brown normally uses the Fourth of July week to distribute sign-up forms for the Twin City golf tournament.
Instead, Brown spent the holiday in 2020 sending out an announcement he would rather have not delivered at all. That the 92nd Twin City tournament — initially scheduled to take place this Saturday and Sunday in Champaign and Urbana — was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Brown and other members of the tournament committee possessed multiple reasons for making this decision, but they all came back to the COVID-19 pandemic — as do most event scheduling choices that transpire these days.
“We don’t want to be the cause or be liable for anyone having anything to do with the COVID virus, especially anyone contracting it as result of playing in one of our tournaments,” Brown told The News-Gazette. “That being said, we delayed this process as far as we possibly could.”
Brown said he isn’t sure if the Twin City has ever been canceled, suggesting the only other time that could have happened was during World War II.
Regardless, neither Champaign’s Lincolnshire Fields Country Club nor Urbana Country Club will welcome in the area’s best golfers of all ages this upcoming weekend.
Brown said he and other committee members began seriously discussing the Twin City’s fate once Gov. J.B. Pritzker allowed golf courses throughout Illinois to reopen in May, albeit doing so by following certain guideliens.
Numerous options were brought up to hold the tournament in some capacity, among them the idea of pushing the event to September or October.
“But we thought at that point in time we lose a lot of people,” Brown said. “We like the youth to play in it. A lot of them go back to school. And, again, we weren’t sure what the status would be without a vaccine come fall. We’d probably be dealing with the same problems we have now and shorter days.”
Brown said officials at both Lincolnshire and Urbana expressed hesitancy about their halves of the hosting duties.
“One of (Lincolnshire’s) reasons — which I don’t think was Urbana’s, but Urbana thought about it — was they have restricted their members playing golf through March, April and most of May anyway,” Brown said, “and they were concerned about taking another weekend day — a prime day of Saturday — away from their membership. They pay dues, and for us to come in and take the club — they’ve been generous, but they though it was a unique year.”
Urbana is scheduled to host its first-ever American Junior Golf Association event in the first week of August as well, further cutting into course time for its club members.
Brown said that Mike Wallner, director of golf at the University of Illinois Course in Savoy, offered up his facility for one day of Twin City play but couldn’t provide two days.
Wallner, also a Twin City tournament committee member, said the Orange Course would have taken on those golfers if the event was able to be held.
“It’s a big loss for the community,” Wallner said. “People didn’t play in it quite as much as they did in the past, but it’s still a very recognized tournament. We’ve got a lot of quality golfers in Champaign-Urbana. It’s hard not to have it.”
The Twin City committee itself harbored plenty of pandemic-related worries, separate from issues brought forth by representatives of the two courses.
“The social distancing factors and the rules that are applied (by order of Pritzker), we didn’t want to circumvent them in any way, shape or form,” Brown said. “So as a result we had to come up with a plan on, one, how we would implement them and, two, how we would enforce them.
“It’s something that, as a committee, I’d have to say we were a little resistant, if not uneasy, by taking on that responsibility.”
Included in such rule creation would be guidelines for dealing with inclement weather.
“Any kind of weather delay, that type of thing, pulling potentially 90 people off the course when 50 people currently are the limit (being in one spot at a time),” Brown said, “... that’d be a sure violation, and I didn’t have an answer to that one.”
Then there was the matter of putting individuals considered more at-risk to suffer serious complications from contracting COVID-19 in a compromising position via working at the Twin City tournament.
“I’m now older, and I knew that I couldn’t play but that I was going to have to work it,” Brown said. “I’m talking to you from my dining room. My employer hasn’t allowed us in since the middle of March. I take this pandemic seriously. ... I was going to find it difficult and my wife was going to find it very difficult for me to even supervise.”
Brown said he expects the current Twin City hosting rotation to roll over to 2021. Lincolnshire was going to handle Saturday’s qualifying round, while Urbana was going to host Sunday’s flighted round.
And one lost year, both Brown and Wallner said, won’t be the end of the Twin City tournament on the local golf scene.
“Hopefully next year we’ll be back and running it again. We can have a little asterisk by this year and move on to next year,” Wallner said. “Everybody understands with the COVID thing going on (that) canceling this year was probably the best thing for everybody in general.”