Sports organizations have played a game of kick-the-can ever since the coronavirus overtook our lives. Every few days there is another rescheduling announcement that sends things further down the road (or calendar) of 2020.
One month becomes two months which becomes four and it all seems pointless.
The PGA Tour did another version of that Thursday, announcing its return will be June 11 at the Charles Schwab Challenge in Fort Worth, Texas. It previously was May 18.
Only this time, perhaps, sports fans can look with a measure of hope that it will hold. If so, it will mark the first major sporting event in the United States (unless the UFC, which has vowed to be first, can pull off a fight card before that).
“The health and safety of all associated with the PGA Tour and our global community continues to be our No. 1 priority, and our hope is to play a role – responsibly – in the world’s return to enjoying the things we love,” commissioner Jay Monahan said in a statement, while adding PGA officials would listen to “the guidance of the leading public health authorities.”
There is no telling, of course, what that public guidance will be or the status of the pandemic and any advancements against it will be in two weeks, let alone June.
That said, if any sporting event can return to the calendar with a measure of normalcy, it’s golf. The PGA plans to follow with a busy weekly schedule, capped by a November Masters.
Some of the precautions are simple.
Most notably, no fans, at least for the first four events — Fort Worth (Texas), Hilton Head (South Carolina), Cromwell (Connecticut) and Detroit.
Once that’s done, staging a golf tournament becomes, at least relative to other sports events, fairly easy.
The traditional field at the Charles Schwab is about 110 golfers, which could be pared down a little due to players not wanting to compete or international travel restrictions.
A player and his caddie wouldn’t realistically be able to social distance. Everyone else could.
Colonial Country Club, for example, is sprawled across 385 acres. Playing partners will have to spread out, especially on greens. There can be temperature checks and perhaps, if the testing shortage is ever alleviated, actual screenings for COVID-19 before anyone gets to tee off.
There would be a need for some rules officials and a television camera crew (which could even be scaled back). The announcers could be off site. There would be little to no security. The clubhouse could be closed — hey, Tiger, put your shoes on in the parking lot like regular folks.
On each hole, there can be a designated official who pulls the flag pin or rakes a bunker. About the only common point of touch would be at the hole, but players could either use a new ball each hole or have someone disinfect the ball after pulling it from the cup.
At this point, we are down to almost nothing. It’s basically two people showing up to a park and taking a four-hour stroll but hitting a ball 65-80 times … on national television.
This would require some travel, but many top players use private jets, so even that would be limited (although the airlines could probably use the business).
There are potential interactions at hotels or rented homes, but it’s unlikely the country is still in full shelter-in-place by mid-June (gulp) so the broader impact might be zero.
Golf has to be the single easiest sport to bring back safely. It could be done right now, although the optics of staging an event as America is suffering thousands of deaths per day might not be ideal.
That is something that golf, and all of sports, needs to get over as we go forward. No one is going to argue that golfers are as essential as nurses or grocery workers. No one is diminishing the loss of life, employment or general struggles. If anything, a charitable arm can be attached to the event to help people who need it.
For generations sports has been used as an effective distraction, morale boost and rallying point for societies around the world during times of intense crisis — wars, diseases, economic struggles. It matters. People need an outlet. And it should matter even more as this grinds on considering there are no concerts, no bars, no theaters, no parades and so on.
Golf isn’t as popular as the NFL or the NBA, but it is a global sport. It will be a welcome respite for millions.
June 11 is the new return date. Here's hoping this one sticks, if only because we could really use it.
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