Coronavirus: Many weeks of uncertainty ahead for golf

Yahoo Sports

One of many sports halted in mid-competition by the coronavirus pandemic, golf has already seen its most significant event — the Masters — put on indefinite hiatus by the breakout. How long will the sport stay in hibernation? What options are there for the rest of the year? And is it safe for us to play ourselves? Your golf-related coronavirus questions, answered.

How long until golf starts up again?

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Starting with The Players Championship, which was canceled after one day of play, 11 golf tournaments have been canceled or postponed, up through the PGA Championship in mid-May. This includes tournaments such as the Zurich Classic, the Wells Fargo, and the AT&T Byron Nelson. 

The first tournament not yet affected is the Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial, slated to tee off on May 21. That’s the first tournament outside the eight-week guidelines for social distancing that the CDC recommended recently. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean this will be the first tournament played, only that the Tour is waiting for more information before making a decision on its status, and those of the tournaments that follow. 

It’s impossible to guess how soon golf will return; the world has changed completely since the last players walked off the course at TPC Sawgrass just two weeks ago.

Everything stopped at The Players, and everywhere else. (Ben Jared/PGA TOUR via Getty Images)
Everything stopped at The Players, and everywhere else. (Ben Jared/PGA TOUR via Getty Images)

Can the tournaments be rescheduled?

Most of the tournaments on the Tour were canceled, which means no rescheduling. The packed PGA Tour schedule leaves very little room for rescheduling tournaments; the season ends with the Tour Championship in late August, and then picks right back up again in early September. So, unfortunately for the players, organizers, fans and charities that stood to benefit, these tournaments in the spring are almost surely gone until 2021 … the exception, as always, being the majors. 

The one X factor: the Olympics. With news coming Tuesday that the Olympics have been postponed to 2021, there’s now a one-week hole in the schedule starting on July 30. Could one tournament swoop in and claim that date? If so, which one?

And, again, all of this presupposes that it’s even possible to hold golf tournaments in a few months. More on that below. 

What’s the status of the majors?

Right now, two of the four majors — the Masters and the PGA Championship — have announced postponements. The US Open is slated to go off in June at Winged Foot, which is just outside New York City, one of the hardest-hit — by current numbers, at least — locales in the United States. The British Open in July presents its own set of challenges given the international travel involved. 

The golf world revolves around the four majors, and thus golf’s organizing bodies will do all they can to get these tournaments in at some point. If the US and British Opens were able to go off as scheduled, the PGA could slot into the Olympics slot. 

The Masters presents an interesting case study. The course at Augusta National is traditionally closed from May to September, though of course, the membership could reopen if need be. A more likely date is sometime in October — so likely, in fact, that there’s been a run on hotel rooms in Augusta around the period of Oct. 8-11. There’s no guarantee that weekend will host a tournament, but Augusta’s a small town, and there’s a reason somebody made the first run on that weekend. 

As for what Augusta National might look like in the fall? Well, it’s not azaleas, but turning leaves have a beauty all their own:

The majors will obviously hold sway over smaller tournaments, and could either push them off the schedule entirely or reduce them to alternate-field status. But the broadcast demands of the fall calendar — most of the major networks are consumed with football, for instance — will add another wrinkle to this entire mess. Would CBS give up a weekend of football to air the Masters? Would Fox pass on the NFL to air the US Open? 

Even so, picking dates is easy. Actually putting on a tournament? That’s so much harder. 

When will it be safe to hold tournaments? 

There are two issues at play when discussing a tournament: safety of the players and workers, and safety of the gallery. The latter is going to be much more difficult to pull off anytime soon, simply because of the close proximity of galleries. Social distancing doesn’t work when there are thousands of golf fans gathered cheek-to-shoulder around the 18th hole. Given the long-term prospects for a vaccine or direct treatment of the coronavirus, it’s probably best right now not to think about what that means for the short-term future of traditionally run golf tournaments.

On the other hand, running a golf tournament with a skeleton crew is, theoretically, the safest possible sporting event this side of iRacing. Competitors are farther apart from each other than in any other non-racing sport. If coronavirus testing became plentiful, it would, in theory, be possible to test all players, caddies and officials before a tournament. Clean players play, infected players don’t. That, combined with some safety measures outlined below for everyday play, could at least give us a chance at a golf tournament. 

Is it safe to play golf? 

Realistically — though we hasten to add that we’re not medical experts here — with proper precautions, it’s no more dangerous to play golf than it is to take a walk around your neighborhood. As with so much in life, the problem is other people. Many golf clubs — those that aren’t yet closed by executive order; golf courses are not “essential” — have begun advocating social-distancing measures aimed at slowing the spread of contaminants. For instance: no raking of sand traps, no post-round handshakes. Some have even gone so far as to place slivers of pool noodles and the like in cups so that golfers don’t have to reach all the way into the hole to retrieve their putt. 

Being outdoors, with plenty of distance between players, is both reasonably safe and a much-needed antidote to quarantine. The question, of course, is how to extrapolate a full golf tournament out of this small-scale activity. The answer may still be months in coming.

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com.

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