The 71st Annual Press Thornton Future Masters will have a different look this year in more ways than one.
The obvious is the absence of Dr. Press Thornton Jr., the beloved president and general chairman of the junior golf tournament, who passed away in early January. He had presided over the tournament since 1956 – six years after his father initiated the event.
But there will also be some noticeable adjustments within the surroundings of the Dothan Country Club due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Golfers began arriving in town on Friday and many others will join them on Saturday as practice rounds for the 11-12 and 13-14 age groups are held before first round play for those divisions begins on Sunday morning.
Before they begin competing on the DCC course, an agreement must be signed acknowledging they understand a list of updated polices and guidelines due to COVID-19 that was sent out to each participant.
Among the noticeable differences for the golfers includes the flags being left in the holes at all times and rakes not being provided in the bunkers in an effort to lessen transmissions of germs. Marshals will rake the bunkers from time to time during the rounds.
“When they hit it in the trap, they can mark their ball and move it one scorecard (in length) in case it happened to go in a footprint,” tournament director Kevin Klein said.
Golfers are asked to not show up at the course until 30 minutes prior to their tee time. The players are also asked to leave the premises within 30 minutes of the completion of their round.
Players are also asked to refrain from the traditional handshake after the round. A thumbs-up sign – a trademark of the late Dr. Thornton – is a suggested alternative.
The driving range will be closed for the entire week of the tournament, though the chipping and putting areas will be open. There will be no limit on spectators and there is free admission to the public as normal, but social distancing should be practiced.
“We’re asking the families to stay in their family groups,” tournament coordinator Angelia Turner said. “We will have outdoor seating available in trying to spread people out as much as possible. We’re trying to limit indoor activity as much as possible and keep people as safe as we can.”
Spectators are expected to stay on cart paths where possible and maintain social distancing from other players and spectators. Players and spectators can decide for themselves whether or not to wear a face mask and/or protective gloves.
Food can be purchased throughout the week in a food court area that will be set up outside next to the driving range.
There are 476 players spanning four age divisions who signed up to compete. The 11-12 and 13-14 players begin their first of three rounds on Sunday, while the 10-under players begin the first of two rounds on Monday. Championship rounds in the three younger age divisions will be held Tuesday.
On Wednesday, a practice round will be held for the 15-18 age division players. The three-round tournament for them will begin on Thursday with the crowning of the overall champion scheduled for Saturday.
For tee times, check www.futuremastersgolf.com