'Vaccination is a choice,’ commissioner says with an eye on 2021, and he hopes Tour can return to normal by Florida Swing in March
As with most sports, golf – specifically, the PGA Tour – will enter 2021 cautiously amid uncertainty about what lies ahead. The COVID-19 pandemic will be the prevailing topic and determine the success of the new year. Though the PGA Tour has been affected by the pandemic, with the loss of 13 tournaments in the spring, the effects have been much less than in other sports.
For example, the NFL and college football have played fewer games, changing the competitive landscape. Baseball also shortened its season. The NBA and NHL played within competitive bubbles and, like professional golf, faced fewer significant issues.
Though the major pro golf tours canceled events, the PGA Tour returned in June to a full schedule and unaltered prize money, generating $160 million in charitable giving for 2020.
Most tournaments did not permit spectators, and the few that allowed fans severely limited attendance.
The trend will continue into the new year, with the PGA Tour allowing few or no fans at the two events in Hawaii and the four in California, a state that is under a widespread lockdown. One exception in early 2021 will be the Waste Management Phoenix Open, which announced this week that the Feb. 4-7 tournament will allow an undisclosed number of spectators and is selling ticket packages to the rowdy par-3 stadium hole at TPC Scottsdale’s No. 16.
In years past, the 16th hole featured 16,000 spectators ringing the hole in a horseshoe-shaped grandstand. Though the plan for 2021 has not been finalized, social distancing will limit the number of spectators and result in a smaller crowd at the 16th. A Phoenix Open official told Morning Read that 5,000-8,000 spectators likely will be admitted per day, with an undisclosed number at the 16th hole.
PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said Thursday on a conference call with a handful of golf writers that it’s too early to offer specifics.
“We really operate in a six- to eight-week window, and anything beyond that, we work with our tournaments working with local authorities to really try and plan for a number of different scenarios,” Monahan said. “I would be hopeful that when we return to Florida [in early March], we'll be able to continue on the path that we've been on, where we're playing pro-ams, we have our corporate hospitality program, and our title sponsors are able to use a platform to drive their business and that we are safely reintroducing fans.”
The PGA Tour begins its annual Florida Swing with the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in Orlando on March 4-7 (schedule). Monahan said he was encouraged by the recent news about federal approaval for a COVID-19 vaccine and distribution and that he is paying close attention to what that will mean for the PGA Tour in the new year.
However, Monahan said he would not force players or fans to take the vaccine, nor did he make it clear whether a vaccinated fan would be treated differently than a non-vaccinated spectator.
“I think vaccination is a choice, and I think we would apply the same logic and the same amount of care to that subject as we have to every other subject, and that is to try and do our best to educate our members on vaccination and the pros and cons associated with it,” Monahan said. “But ultimately it's an individual decision.”
Is it ultimately the individual’s decision?
In all 50 states and the District of Columbia, students are required by law to supply proof of immunization or they will not be able to attend school.
In many states, health-care workers are required to be immunized against diseases such as measles, mumps and rubella to be employed.
Some states also have adopted mandatory vaccination laws during a public-health emergency such as what we face with COVID-19.
Is it possible that the PGA Tour might not require vaccination, but the individual municipality hosting an event could force players to show proof of immunization to compete?
“The same process that we go through in that we're a partner in every community where we play, and the program that we have will be reflected in the way that we operate,” said Monahan, in deference to officials in the locations where the PGA Tour will compete. “We have a lot of work to do on that front. We have a lot to learn. We're going to be very thoughtful about it. But it's early to say to you with any definition how that's going to affect how we operate.”
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