The return of professional golf competition will arrive with nasal swabs, limited access and plenty of social distancing. And that’s before fans return.
The PGA Tour is scheduled to resume its season June 11 in Texas. The first four weeks of tournaments will be played without spectators. The John Deere Classic is set to welcome fans back beginning July 9, but there is no guarantee of galleries when the 3M Open in Blaine is scheduled to start two weeks later, July 23-26.
PGA Tour officials held a media teleconference Wednesday detailing what golf tournaments will look like in the new age of the coronavirus. Chief tournaments and competitions officer Andy Pazder said the demarcation line between those first four tournaments without fans and the John Deere is a “placeholder,” dependent upon the course of the virus and consultation with public health officials.
“I considered that all along, not some sort of a line on a calendar that we were pushing for to begin allowing some number of fans,” Pazder said. “We are not wedded to any specific date. Obviously, it’s going to be dependent on local, state and federal regulations that will largely dictate when we’re able to resume having some number of fans.”
3M Open officials are planning scenarios that would allow no fans, a limited number of fans and, least likely, a relatively normal number of fans in a sport that — unlike baseball, basketball, football or soccer — is naturally physically distanced over a vast playing field.
“We’re excited how the PGA Tour can play a role here in the world’s return, if you will, to enjoy things we love,” said Tyler Dennis, tour senior vice president and operation chief. “And doing so in a responsible manner.”
In a sign of the sport’s impending return, fans and even caddies will be absent Sunday for a televised exhibition match in Florida to fund COVID-19 relief efforts, featuring Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson taking on Rickie Fowler and Matthew Wolff. A week later a golf-NFL charity match features Tiger Woods and Peyton Manning against Phil Mickelson and Tom Brady.
When the PGA Tour resumes, what will the event look like in this new age? Screening and physical distancing are at the heart of it, aimed at keeping players, caddies, officials, staff, volunteers and eventually spectators safe.
Among the specifics that tour officials have decided on since play was halted two months ago after the first round of the Players Championship:
• Everyone on site daily must answer a health questionnaire and have their temperatures taken. Players, caddies and those closest around them — about 400 people each week — will undergo a nasal swab test before they travel to a tournament and be tested again after they arrive.
• The number of people allowed on site will be limited. Access to player and caddie areas, such as the clubhouse and locker room, will be restricted during the opening tournaments. Family members and some support personnel, such as coaches, won’t be allowed.
• The tour will provide thermal screening, face masks and disinfectant wipes and pay for testing each week. Players and caddies may choose to wear masks on site. Depending on where the event is held, state regulations could mandate face masks be worn.
• Because of medical confidentiality reasons, a player who tests positive for the virus won’t be publicly identified, but he will have to withdraw from the tournament. Asked if there would be a certain number of players testing positive to shut down a tournament, Andy Levinson, tour senior vice president of tournament administration, said, “There’s not a specific number … Obviously, if it was a large number, then we would have to evaluate the situation.”
• No post-round handshakes or high-fives. You’ll probably see a cap tip or an air fist bump or elbow tap from a distance, except when old habits die hard.
“I expect from time to time people will forget, out of just common practice of playing golf all these years,” Dennis said about physical-distancing precautions in general.
• Tour executive are “re-imagining” the look and feel of courses with corporate signage but without grandstands. The courses’ tees, fairways and greens will be roped and staked, and scoreboards provided throughout.
• They’re doing the same reimagining to the media center and interview protocols, the driving range and equipment vans, with limits on the number of people and access.
• The Tour will charter flights between tournaments early on. Players also can use private jets, commercial flights or drive themselves. Anyone boarding the tour’s charters will be tested before departure. It will strongly advise players and caddies to stay in selected hotels with increased safety measures, but they may stay in rented homes or RVs with guidance from the tour.
All of it is intended to get the PGA Tour back to playing safely before team-sport leagues return.
“We view this is a unique opportunity for the PGA Tour, our players and our sport in general to help lead the way,” Pazder said.