GREENSBORO, N.C. – The sun beat down on Sedgefield Country Club Thursday, with temperatures roaring toward an afternoon high in the mid-90s. It seemed much hotter. The “real feel” hovered somewhere around 101. Or maybe 105. Some people were too delirious to tell the difference.

Sweat-soaked shirts clung to backs, sundresses offered shoulders to the sun and shorts got shorter as the day progressed. Everybody seemed to have a water bottle. Or some kind of drink covering ice.

On the course, in the opening round of the Wyndham Championship, players battled through the heat to match red numbers with red temps. At midday, Russell Henley sweated his way to a 62, 8-under on a course with very receptive greens.

There was some grumbling, but not as much as a blistering day in Piedmont North Carolina might normally produce. 

Primary reason for most people wearing smiles around the course Thursday? This time last year this time-honored course, home to Sam Snead, Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan in the early years and home to what many still want to call the Greater Greensboro Open, was essentially empty. As many of the world’s best golfers sought the Wyndham Championship, the 18 holes were eerily quiet, the course slammed shut by the pandemic.

Thursday, even in the excessive heat and humidity, it was good to be back.

“Wouldn’t be anywhere else,” said Raleigh resident Gregory Potter, a Jordan Spieth fan by evidence of his cap. “We’re here every year, four of us who play together every week. Last year we couldn’t figure out what to do. So we sat around and did nothing. Drank beer at home. It was brutal.”

Near the first tee, fans escaped the heat in the Margaritaville pavilion with cold drinks, conversation and a band sweatin’ to the hits. 

“Here’s what we do,” said Malcolm Reed of nearby Winston-Salem. “We followed some players for a couple of holes, and then we got in here (Margaritaville) as quickly as we could. We’ll refuel, change shirts and head back out.”

An impressive crowd lined the fairways on the tournament’s first day, some seeking the shade of nearby oaks. For many, it was a last hurrah before school starts and before summer bends into autumn and football and other things normal for the season.

“It’s fun to play, but it’s fun to watch people who know how to play, too,” said Becky Draper, who watched Rickie Fowler swing from the first tee box and then began the journey of following him throughout his work day, cold water at the ready. “Maybe I’ll learn something. Maybe not. I’m sweating, but I’m not working.”

For a day at one of the tour’s oldest tournaments, an event sort of  taken for granted by many in these parts, it was simply good to be here.

Mike Hembree

Mike Hembree is a veteran journalist who has covered a variety of sports for numerous publications and websites, including USA Today, Fox Sports, TV Guide and The Greenville (S.C.) News. He has written 14 books and has won numerous writing awards at the national, regional and state levels. He is a seven-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.