Miami (AFP) - Spectators will not be allowed at next week's Memorial tournament, the US PGA Tour announced Monday, citing concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic that is spiking near the host course.
Since returning last month, the tour had aimed to have fans back at events at the Jack Nicklaus-hosted event in Muirfield Village at Dublin, Ohio.
But there were 968 cases of the deadly virus across the state of Ohio on Sunday, 42 more than the day before, and a state-high 248 of them were in Franklin County, the Columbus area where the PGA is staging events this week and next. Ohio's COVID-19 death toll reached 2,911 with 19 killed on Sunday.
"The Memorial tournament and the PGA Tour have made the right decision in not allowing spectators to attend this year," Ohio Governor Mike DeWine said.
"I know it was a difficult decision to make, but the organizers of the Memorial tournament have put the health and safety of players and fans first."
No timetable was given for when the PGA might eventually welcome spectators during tournaments.
"While this was a difficult decision, it was one made collectively, and we are appreciative of the process undertaken to this point that will allow us to welcome on-site fans when the time is right," US PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said.
This week's Workday Charity Open was created and planned without fans at Muirfield Village as a tune-up for having fans back next week, but despite a "robust" health and safety plan by organizers and permission from state officials for limited attendance of 9,000 a day, the idea was scrapped in the wake of growing infection numbers in the area.
"We had a good plan in place," said 18-time major winner Nicklaus. "I could not be more proud of everyone who contributed to it. In the end, we have the responsibility to recognize the health and safety of the players and all who attend the Memorial tournament."
DeWine said last month fans could come to the Memorial under COVID-19 protocols allowing up to 20% maximum capacity with fans and essential staff, but warned the situation would be monitored and could change.
Six US PGA players have tested positive for coronavirus since the tour resumed competition last month -- Americans Chad Campbell, Harris English, Nick Watney, Cameron Champ and Denny McCarthy and South African Dylan Frittelli. Two caddies also tested positive.
The early move allows spectators who might have traveled to the event to know they will not be able to attend before they would have arrived for competition days.
Many top players have already arrived in order to play back-to-back weeks at the famed course.