Golf in Sun Devil Stadium? Creativity in play for 365 team during COVID-19

Topgolf will come to Sun Devil Stadium in December as the ASU 365 Community Union team looks for ways to keep the facility in use during the coronavirus era. (Photo by Kevin Hurley/Cronkite News)

An artist’s rendition shows what Arizona State’s Sun Devil Stadium can look like once concerns for the spread of the coronavirus are over. The university plans to hold everything from concerts to yoga sessions to food markets. (Photo courtesy ASU 365 Community Union)

Sun Devil Stadium was expected to be a beehive of activity in 2020, a facility buzzing non-stop with football, live concerts, yoga, movies, obstacle courses and food festivals.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a hush to fall over the concrete playground in Tempe, plans are in place to ensure the stadium doesn’t remain completely silent.

“Necessity is the mother of invention,” said Colleen Jennings-Roggensack, ASU’s Vice President for Cultural Affairs who also spearheads the effort at ASU 365 Community Union.

Last year, ASU 365 Community Union brought 80 events to Sun Devil Stadium. Some of the events included screenings of movies, morning yoga, crazy obstacle courses that included cash prizes, concerts and massive food fairs.

This year is an entirely different ball game when it comes to large gatherings. As per CDC guidelines, groups of larger than 10 are discouraged. However the 365 Community Union team is doing what it does best, staying innovative.

“We asked ourselves what are things that are possible?” Jennings-Roggensack said. “What are activities that involve physical fitness but can be conducted with small groups?”

On December 10th-13th, an event called “Topgolf Live” will tee off at Sun Devil Stadium.

Players will hit golf balls from the concourse level of Sun Devil Stadium to the field. There will be an array of glowing targets ranging from 60 to 140 yards from the tee box. Technology embedded into the game will trace the path of the ball and score the shot instantaneously.

ASU 365 Community Union was introduced by Jack Furst, an ASU Alumnus and ASU’s 2017 Founder’s Day Philanthropist of the Year.

“I said, ‘Look, this is crazy.’ There’s no sense to refurbish a stadium when we ought to reinvent it,” Furst told Cronkite News in 2018. “It ought to be a place where we get together 365 days a year instead of eight football games.

“If we’re going to spend $300 million, wouldn’t you rather spend $300 million and utilize it every day of the year rather than eight evenings a year?”

His vision was to up the ante of Sun Devil Stadium’s annual 2% usage rate.

“What about the other 98 percent of the time?” Jennings-Roggensack said.

Jennings-Roggensack is not the only one dreaming of ideas to fill the stadium’s vast void. Her team includes Victor Hamburger, senior director for both 365 Community Union and Strategic Initiatives for ASU Cultural Affairs, and Kimberly Inglese, marketing & sales coordinator.

“You spent 300 million dollars on building this stadium,” Hamburger said. “You can’t look at it as a smart investment if you’re only using it six or seven days a year.”

Those six or seven days are dedicated to ASU football’s home games. COVID-19 has stalled the season although improved testing for the coronavirus and the Big Ten’s announcement of a return to sports suggest the Pac-12 may see competition soon as well.

Until then, it has created an even larger void to fill for the ASU 365 Community Union team.

“We never look at a situation as the status quo, we look to see how we can improve it,” Hamburger said.

December’s “Topgolf Live” event will, of course, feature precautions that have become common signs of the times.

Golfers can test their skills from the concourse of Sun Devil Stadium when a Topgolf event is held there in December. (Photo courtesy ASU 365 Community Union)

Measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 include temperature checks, social distancing enforcement, disinfecting golf clubs tables and hitting bays between every tee time. The golf balls will be washed after play and before reuse and hand sanitizer will be placed throughout the venue.

Tickets range from $35 for students to $55 for non students, and $135 premium tickets are available for big spenders who want extra perks.

Mindfulness is a term utilized around ASU and few things are more mindful than yoga. Before the pandemic struck, the stadium offered free one-hour yoga classes.. But COVID-19 has its vice grip on not allowing group gatherings. Inglese, in charge of marketing these events, has found creative ways to alleviate some of the squeeze.

“Some of our events we’ve been able to transfer over to a virtual space,” Inglese said. “We are still able to partner with local instructors and they teach from their home or their studio and it takes place virtually through Zoom.”

These virtual yoga classes take place at noon every Tuesday and at 9:30 a.m.every Saturday.

The team at ASU 365 Community Union isn’t stopping at virtual yoga and golf. There are tentative plans to host other events in the future.

“We are still working on booking out events but doing so in a socially distant way,” Hamburger said.

Major conferences and luncheons take place in the San Tan Ford Club, a room in the stadium that pre-pandemic could hold up to 800 people standing and 420 with tables and chairs for dining.

Plans are in place to host conferences that have around 50 people spread throughout the 12,500-square foot room, along with streaming the conference online for other attendees.

“It can still have the conference ‘feel’ to it,” Hamburger said. “But it doesn’t feel like you’re just sitting through another Zoom meeting.”

Though Zoom meetings are the new normal, people still want to get away from the screen and out of their house for some fun.

Insert the Monster Hydro Stadium Blitz brought to you by the Gronkowski brothers.

This is a three-mile long obstacle course that includes 15 obstacles ranging from net fences to uneven monkey bars with a cash prize and after party at the finish line.

Future participants will have to wait some time before this event kicks off as it isn’t scheduled until February 20th, 2021.

COVID-19 has handed the ASU 365 Community Union team some sour lemons but they are trying their best to make lemonade regardless.

“We are events people and we all miss the events world,” Inglese said with a laugh. “We are hopeful and we are definitely trying to do the best that we can right now, and we will keep doing so until we are back together.”

Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Christopher Lopez is an Arizona native who expects to graduate in December 2020 with a master’s degree in sports journalism.