PGA Tour golfer: Hilton Head crowds ‘an absolute zoo,’ not taking coronavirus seriously

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HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. — A PGA Tour player says Hilton Head Island visitors are packing beaches and restaurants and not taking coronavirus seriously.

Justin Thomas, competing in the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing at Harbour Town Golf Links, suggested Saturday the visitors’ relaxed attitudes around Sea Pines could be to blame for fellow tour player Nick Watney testing positive for the virus Friday.

“I mean, no offense to Hilton Head, but they’re seeming to not take it very seriously,” Thomas said. “It’s an absolute zoo around here. There’s people everywhere. The beaches are absolutely packed. Every restaurant, from what I’ve seen when I’ve been driving by, is absolutely crowded. … Unfortunately, that’s not on Nick because I know he’s very cautious and has done everything he can, but I would say a lot of people in this area of Hilton Head just aren’t.”

Thomas was speaking after finishing the third round of the tournament. The PGA Tour announced Friday afternoon that Watney was the first player on the tour to test positive for COVID-19.

The tour resumed last week at the Charles Schwab Challenge in Fort Worth, Texas. Tour officials to that point had said hundreds of tests on players, caddies and other personnel had been negative.

Eleven people believed to have contact with Watney tested negative, the tour said. Results on a second test to confirm the negative results are pending.

The summer tourist season is in full swing on Hilton Head Island and in Beaufort County.

South Carolina set a single-day record with 1,157 new COVID-19 cases reported Saturday by the state’s Department of Health and Environmental Control. Beaufort County reported 60 new cases.

The state’s COVID-19 total is now 23,756.

Carlos Ortiz, who is one shot off the lead headed into the final round, said he began to feel paranoid about potential symptoms after Watney’s positive test. He said people seem to be freer as restrictions are loosened, recalling restaurants being so crowded early in the week that he went somewhere else.

“It’s a 30-minute wait, and once you get in there, there’s no social distancing, packed tables right by each other, kids running around,” Ortiz said of a restaurant in Harbour Town. “We were impressed how nobody wearing a mask. We talked about it on Tuesday when we saw it. We were like, ‘Oh, somebody’s going to get corona here.’ It’s crazy how busy it is in here inside the Island.”

Thomas said he has felt safe during the tournament on Hilton Head and has stayed inside with a chef and small circle of people. Other players can’t help if they have to pick up food outside the safety net tour officials are trying to create, he said.

“Outside you can’t control what other people have done, and I think that’s what happened to Nick,” Thomas said. “He was very unlucky.”

Multiple players said a positive case on tour was inevitable. Rory McIlroy, the No. 1 player in the world, referenced a statistic on the rising number of cases expected in the United States by the end of the year.

“So to think that us on the PGA Tour, none of us were going to get it — I don’t think anyone thought that,” McIlroy said. “I think the consensus was someone is going to get it at some point, and Nick’s the one that’s got it. And he’s self-isolating and doing what he has to do.”


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