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Despite tough times, Utah Sports Commission CEO staying positive about state of sports in Utah

FILE: Kristoffer Ventura speaks after winning the 2019 Utah Championship at the Oakridge Country Club in Farmington on Sunday, June 30, 2019. Even with the coronavirus pandemic forcing sporting events to be postponed, rescheduled or canceled, the 2020 Utah Championship will again take place at Oakridge Country Club, though there will be no fans at The Korn Ferry Tour event.
Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — On a normal year, the Utah Sports Commission oversees or is involved in as many as four dozen sporting events in the state. Some are big events such as the PGA’s Korn Ferry Tour golf tournament or the Tour of Utah bicycle race and some are smaller events the general public never hears much about.

Just like everyone else in the world, the sports commission is being affected by the coronavirus pandemic with several events being postponed, rescheduled or canceled until it’s safe to get back to business as usual.

Jeff Robbins, CEO of the Utah Sports Commission for the past two decades, is remaining positive about the “State of Sports” in Utah — that’s the moniker his organization has used since its inception. He prefers not to say any events are being canceled, rather just being postponed to later dates, some next year.

“We had a lot of things going on and it certainly has been disruptive to say the least,” Robbins acknowledged. “But we feel pretty lucky, all things considering. You hate to lose any events, but we’ve been pretty fortunate in that a lot have said, ‘let’s reschedule for next year,” because some don’t come back every year. We’ve picked up some events and landed some new ones for future years.”

All the spring events through the end of May in which the commission is involved have been canceled or pushed back to later dates.

The World Cadet Fencing Championship, scheduled for early April, had to be canceled as was the Pac-12 Gymnastics Championship in the middle of the month. A USA Judo event set for April was rescheduled for August

The AMA Supercross that was slated to be held last weekend, had to be canceled and Robbins said he’s hoping to get the event back next year.

Also, the St. George Ironman Triathlon, which brings in athletes from all over the world, has been moved from May to Sept. 19.

One event that will be happening next month, barring any unforeseen setbacks, is the Utah Championship golf tournament, an annual stop on the PGA’s Korn Ferry Tour. The weeklong event has been played here every year but two since 1990 and brought future PGA Tour stars such as John Daly, Ernie Els, Bubba Watson and Justin Thomas to Utah.

This year’s tourney will be contested the week of June 22-28 at Oakridge Country Club. It will be the third event on a revamped Korn Ferry schedule and like the first four scheduled events, no fans will be allowed.

“The Korn Ferry Tour will take extreme measures,” said Robbins, who has kept in close contact with Tour officials for the past few weeks. “They want to be safe and protected, they want to play. Nobody wants to put the players or fans in harm’s way, so they have significant protocols in place.”

Robbins says the volunteer force will be decreased from about 250 to 75, media may or may not be allowed and everyone involved with the tournament will have to be monitored and perhaps even tested before they’re allowed on the Oakridge property. As it has been for the past several years, the Utah Championship will be televised on the Golf Channel, with nine hours of coverage, including five hours live. With the lack of live sporting events these days, the tournament might receive record ratings.

The Tour of Utah has been canceled this year with plans to return in 2021.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

As for the Tour of Utah, the weeklong pro bicycle race that brings in top riders from all over the world and has been an annual event in the state for 15 years, has been canceled for this year with plans to return in 2021. Other events, like the Days of ’47 Rodeo, will take the year off and return next year.

“Things have changed, but we’re in a pretty good position here,” Robbins said. “We’ve lost some and are rescheduling some and have some new ones coming in. We have some things in the fall that haven’t been announced yet. I’m actually busy and that’s good.”