The Masters Tournament has delayed its ticketing process for the 2021 championship as it seeks a way to allow some spectators to return for the first major of the year.
Dustin Johnson won the 2020 Masters, which was postponed from April to November because of the coronavirus pandemic, before just a smattering of Augusta National members, as the tournament had made the decision to play without spectators.
With just 100 days until the first round of the 2021 Masters scheduled for April 8, the club has to make decisions quickly.
"As planning continues on how to stage the 2021 Masters Tournament safely and responsibly, we would like to inform you that Augusta National is delaying the ticket process for Patron Series Badges, which traditionally begins Jan. 1,'' the club said in an email to ticket holders.
"Our intention is to communicate our decisions for the 2021 Masters to all patrons of record by the end of January. No further action is needed with your account at this time.''
Patron Series Badges are good for the four tournament rounds only and do not include practice rounds. The cost of a badge for 2020 was to be $375, and when the Masters announced in August that it would play in November without spectators, it offered to defer those badges to 2021.
Practice rounds are another matter. Those tickets are distributed for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday via a lottery conducted the previous spring. Those tickets were also deferred to 2021.
Because all of these tickets and badges have been pre-sold, Augusta National Golf Club has a difficult problem in figuring out how to proceed with presumably a smaller number of spectators allowed on site. In the email, the club thanked its patrons for "continued patience'' as it looks to communicate a definitive answer.
Crowd sizes are not announced, but it is generally believed that around 30,000 series badges are sold. Whittling that number to even half would require some ingenuity, possibly allowing admittance for a limited number of days or again deferring attendance a year.
Masters chairman Fred Ridley said in November that he hopes the "tournament in April will be more normal than it is now,'' but offered no assurances that it will be any different, given the current uncertainty with the pandemic.
"We would need to see objective data that would give us a high level of confidence that we could bring large numbers of people onto the grounds for April,'' Ridley said on Nov 11. "I think the vaccine -- I don't want to get into medical prognostications -- but just logically as a lay person, the vaccine, while it will be wonderful when it happens, there are all kinds of issues that point to beyond April [for the vaccine] as the silver bullet.
"As it relates to [COVID-19] testing, there are some real opportunities there. Our staff has been exploring those very deeply. We have a number of people who are very interested in helping us. It is something we will be looking very hard at. It'll be a wonderful circumstance if we could test large numbers of people.''
In November, the Masters required all who would be on the grounds to produce a negative COVID-19 test before being admitted. It administered rapid-response tests through a local pharmacy. But those were administered to a relatively small number of people, perhaps fewer than 2,000.
To have significant numbers of spectators who have to undergo testing would require a huge effort, although Augusta National has the financial resources -- plus acres upon acres of parking facilities -- to make it possible.