The PGA Tour laid out an ambitious plan Thursday to resume its season the second week of June and keep fans away for at least a month, conceding that any return to golf depends on whether it can be played safely amid the coronavirus outbreak.
The Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial in Fort Worth, Texas, was pushed back to June 11-14. Assuming golf gets the green light from government and health officials, the tour then would have an official tournament every week through Dec. 6 except for a Thanksgiving break.
“Our hope is to play a role — responsibly — in the world’s return to enjoying the things we love,” PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan said. “But as we’ve stressed on several occasions, we will resume competition only when ... it is considered safe to do so under the guidance of the leading public health authorities.”
Golf is the first sport to announce plans for a restart, although its arenas are far different from other sports because it is played over some 400 acres. It was the second significant step to try to salvage the year, following last week’s announcement of three majors — including the Masters in November — going later in the year.
Even as it announced a truncated schedule, several key details were still being contemplated, such as testing for COVID-19 at tournaments.
“We have a level of confidence that is based upon ... changes and developments being made in the world of testing, available tests,” said Andy Pazder, the tour’s chief officer of tournaments and competition. “We’re following very closely, through the assistance of our expert medical advisers, the development of more large-scale testing capabilities. ... It gives us confidence that we will be able to develop a strong testing protocol that will mitigate risk as much as we possibly can.”
The RBC Heritage at Hilton Head, previously canceled this week, was brought back to be played after Colonial on June 18-21. Those dates previously belonged to the U.S. Open at Winged Foot, which plans to move to September.
That would be followed by the Travelers Championship in Connecticut and the Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit.
The tour said its invitation-based tournaments — Colonial, Hilton Head and the Memorial — would have their fields expanded to 144 players. Memorial, with Jack Nicklaus as the host, takes the July 16-19 week that had belonged to the British Open before it was canceled. The World Golf Championship in Memphis, Tennessee, now has the dates (July 30-Aug. 2) when the Olympics were to be played.
If all goes according to plan, the season would end on Sept. 7 at the Tour Championship with a FedEx Cup champion getting the $15 million bonus. That would be a 36-tournament schedule, down from 48 tournaments on the original schedule.
Three more tournaments were canceled, one permanently. The Canadian Open, the third-oldest on the PGA Tour schedule, said it would not be played this year. Also canceled was the Barbasol Championship in Kentucky, typically held the same week as the British Open. The Greenbrier tournament in West Virginia was canceled for good.
The tour had only 40 events in 2013, a short season to prepare for the start of its wraparound season that now begins in the fall.
Even so, it could lead to a peculiar two seasons. The current season could have only one major championship; the PGA Championship is scheduled for Aug. 6-9 at Harding Park in San Francisco. The following season could have two Masters, two U.S. Opens, the PGA Championship and the British Open.
Other details the tour still has to sort out was who fell under the “essential” category that would be allowed at tournaments beyond players, caddies, scoring official, rules officials and support staff.
Pazder said at least 25 players are outside the U.S., along with at least 35 caddies, all subject to international travel restrictions.
“We are playing very close attention to if and when those restrictions are changed,” he said.
Tyler Dennis, the tour’s chief of operations, said officials also were considering the movement of everyone who would be at a golf tournament. Social distancing in golf is not difficult; some people continue to play golf in states where courses remain open. Still to be determined is how to keep other areas, even the flag stick, sanitized.