The PGA Tour is on track to resume competition next month at the Charles Schwab Challenge, but getting restarted after months of being shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic has required a huge amount of planning, with numerous obstacles being navigated to produce a safe environment for players, caddies and those involved in the on-site operation.
As previously announced, the tour plans a four-tournament re-start with no fans, starting with the Charles Schwab and followed by the RBC Heritage (South Carolina), the Travelers Championship (Connecticut) and the Rocket Mortgage Classic (Michigan).
The John Deere Classic (Illinois) in early July is scheduled to be the first event with spectators — although tour officials said that could change.
On Tuesday, the tour sent a 37-page memo to players outlining its plans. On Wednesday, tour executives Andy Pazder, Tyler Dennis and Andy Levinson held a media conference call to answer questions.
Here are several key takeaways:
The Tour plans to have extensive testing at its events, including thermal readings and nasal swab or saliva COVID-19 exams as well as pre-travel screening. Players and caddies will also be tested on arrival, likely at the host hotel, with daily questionnaire and temperature tests to follow. The plan is for one COVID-19 test of players per week, plus daily monitoring. A player who tests positive would have to withdraw and quarantine. Approximately 400 swab or saliva exams will be needed per week.
The Tour is offering a charter between events, with players and caddies getting first priority. It is charging players $600 per seat, with caddies and Korn Ferry Tour players paying $300. All will have to get a COVID-19 test within 24 hours of departure. Some players will elect to drive, travel via private plane or commercial.
The plan is to have one or central hotels for players and caddies, depending on location. This is where testing would most likely occur. It is also where the tour expects players and caddies to be for the majority of the time they are not at the course.
The caddie responsibilities
Although this will be difficult, caddies will be expected to maintain six feet of distance between players. The hope is that players will take and return clubs to the bag themselves. There will be sanitation material on each hole to be able to wipe down clubs, flagsticks and rakes — which caddies will be allowed to use.
The tour seems intent on stressing the significance of social distancing, despite daily monitoring and weekly testing. It is issuing protocols to be followed, but it reserves the right to issue non-competitive penalties if various rules are abused.
“Just like all of our tournament regulations, rules and whatnot, the new requirements would be treated under our disciplinary process, if needed,” Dennis said.
The international players
The tour said approximately 25 players — among them Tommy Fleetwood, Adam Scott, Justin Rose, Francesco Molinari and Hideki Matsuyama — and caddies who are members of the PGA Tour are currently residing outside of the United States. With travel bans in place and quarantine rules facing travelers, it will be a challenge for some of them to return in time for the first event.
“We are working with the federal government to facilitate the return of players and caddies who are currently residing outside of the United States, and we’re optimistic that that’s going to occur,” Levinson said.
Those players however, will be required to quarantine for 14 days after arriving, meaning they will need to arrive at least two weeks prior to the first event they are scheduled to play.
Unlike other sports, which might see players take a pay cut due to lost games, the PGA Tour is not planning on slashing purses at its events. The purse for the Charles Schwab tournament is $7.5-million, and the reasoning is the players have missed significant earning opportunities.
“Keep in mind obviously we are in the middle of a 13-week break across all of our tours, and you look at somewhere north of $100-million in prize money that has fallen to the wayside,” Pazder said. “So our intent s of this moment certainly is to keep purses at the previously announced levels.”
Consequences of a positive test
Due to privacy laws, a positive test will not be disclosed, although a player would be forced to withdraw. And it would be up to him to say the reason. Tour officials then would take steps to mitigate and determine who the player was in contact with prior to the positive test. An event will not be canceled over one positive test.
“There is no specific number that we are focused on,” Levinson said. “When there is a positive test there does have to be some contact tracing that takes place, which is why social distancing is so important. We haven’t identified a specific number, but obviously if it was a large number then we would have to evaluate the situation.”
It’s not an issue for the first four events. And after that remains undecided, as some eight weeks remain before that would be a possibility.
“We are not wedded to any specific date,” Pazder said. “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. I would absolutely anticipate that whenever that occurs, it would initially be on a limited basis to ease ourselves back into spectators being on-site.”
Who is allowed at the events
In addition to players and caddies, PGA Tour staff including scoring and rules officials, security, player relations, media officials, select ShotLink staff, select tournament staff, clubhouse staff, volunteers, trainers, instructors and media will be permitted on site. Player families, as well as managers and agents, will not be allowed at the tournament venue.
They will be on the course, per usual. So will spectator ropes — even though there will be no spectators. There will still be walking scorers as well as ShotLink personnel to record the various measurements for drives, approach shots, putts that go into the tour’s statistical package.
It’s amazing to think what is available to tour players every week.
It’s a traveling circus, and the PGA Tour and its host sites do all they can to make the experience a good one for players and families.
But during the re-start, families won’t be permitted on site. And various amenities such as daycare, laundry, valet parking and other services will not be available. It’s going to be a bare-bones operation, for obvious reasons.