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 because of 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 restart 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 questionnaires 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 flight 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 flight.
The plan is to have one or more 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 most of the time they are not at the course.
Although this will be difficult, caddies will be expected to maintain 6 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, on top of daily monitoring and weekly testing. It is issuing protocols, but it reserves the right to issue noncompetitive penalties if 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 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 travelers facing quarantine rules, 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 before the first event they are scheduled to play.
Unlike other sports, which might see players take a pay cut because of lost games, the PGA Tour does not plan to slash 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 of this moment certainly is to keep purses at the previously announced levels."
Consequences of a positive test
Because of privacy laws, a positive test will not be disclosed, although a player would be forced to withdraw. 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 before 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."
The resumption of allowing fans is not an issue for the first four events. After that remains undecided, as the John Deere Classic, which is eight weeks away, could be the first event to have fans.
"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. Players' families, 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 and putts that go into the tour's statistical package.
It's amazing to think of what is typically 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 restart, families won't be permitted on site. And various amenities such as day care, laundry, valet parking and other services will not be available. It will be a bare-bones operation, for obvious reasons.