With hand-wringing and debate continuing about the path ahead for big-money pro and college sports during the coronavirus pandemic, the PGA Tour says it is “very confident” in its new plan to return in mid-June without fans.
Tour officials announced Thursday they plan to hold the Charles Schwab Challenge in Fort Worth, TX, on June 11 to 14. CBS will televise the annual tournament at Colonial Country Club, which had originally been scheduled for May.
In March, just before the coronavirus altered day-to-day life in the U.S. and sent the economy reeling, the Tour announced a nine-year rights deal to continue coverage across ViacomCBS, ESPN, NBC and other media platforms. While the most angst in sports during Covid-19 centers on the NBA, the NFL and other top-tier leagues, golf is a reliable draw. Thanks to Tiger Woods’ Masters win and comeback, among other storylines, the sport generated solid ratings in 2019.
Along with the new date for the Texas event, the PGA also updated its schedule for the rest of 2020. No fans will be allowed to attend the first four tournaments back, which the tour said will help it observe social distancing guidelines. Officials acknowledged the uncertainty of the operating environment and the many logistical challenges, among them meeting health and safety requirements and coping with international travel limits.
Andy Pazder, the tour’s Chief Tournament and Competitions Officer, said during a conference call that golf officials are “very confident” in the tournament being able to move forward as planned. Thirteen other dates were also updated Thursday, including the PGA Championship in August and the Tour Championship in September. Majors including the U.S. Open and the Masters are also still planning to play in the fall, but they are not under the auspices of the PGA Tour.
“There’s a lot that can happen in a positive way in those three additional weeks with this delay, and that was, I think, what drove us,” Pazder said of the decision to move forward. “I’m not going to say on this call that I have 110% certainty, but we are very confident that we will be able to play that second week in June.” he said.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the public face of the medical research establishment during the pandemic, voiced his full-throated support Wednesday for the fan-free resumption of sports.
Advances in testing, he said, gave officials the sense they could get back up and running. “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,” he said. “We know that there will also be further developments over the next eight weeks before we were to resume play.”
As far as how the game will look, obviously the green expanse of the course will look much the same, but the details of the production will be the result of planning and evaluation of both safety and innovation, officials said. “We could face a slightly or create a slightly different type of telecast,” said Tyler Dennis, the tour’s Chief of Operations. “We could do it exactly like we normally do. We’re looking at it as an opportunity with our broadcast partners to try to introduce some innovative ideas and really, if we are as we’ve said going to be with no general public at our first four events, try to use that as an opportunity to showcase play on the PGA Tour in a slightly different way.”
At least 25 Tour players and 35 caddies live outside the U.S., officials said, acknowledging they could be limited in their ability to travel.