Safety First for PGA Tour Golf Like You Have Never Seen it Before
THE PGA Tour will return on June 11, with the Charles Schwab Challenge being staged at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas. And it will be tournament golf like we have not seen before, with no spectators in attendance and a huge raft of measures being introduced to ensure the safety of everybody involved.
We have never seen anything like this. And as we witnessed at the TaylorMade Driving Relief skins match, it is going to be no easy task to impose social distancing. There were several times during that 18-hole match when the players obviously forgot they were meant to remain two metres apart.
Mike Russell, the PGA Tour official responsible for tending and removing the flag, consistently got within a couple of feet of the players as they retrieved their golf balls, while on-course reporter Steve Sands was quite obviously reminded via his earpiece that he was getting too close to the golfers as he interviewed them while walking the fairways with them. The four golfers involved carried their own clubs and used rangefinders, but caddies will be back at Fort Worth, and how on earth do a caddie and his employer remain two metres apart.
But the Tour believes they can stage tournaments safely. “It's really a layered approach that we've taken, and the heart of it is social distancing,” the Tour’s Senior Vice President and Chief of Operations Tyler Dennis said.
That will include plenty of testing. Players and caddies will be expected to comply with medical questionnaires, temperature readings and nasal swabs. It will start before they travel to tournaments and continue when they arrive. “We’re excited about how the PGA Tour can play a role here in the world's return, if you will, to enjoying things we love and doing so in a responsible manner,” Dennis said.
Competitions Officer Andy Pazder agreed, calling this moment “a unique opportunity” to lead the way.
Players such as Brooks Koepka, Rory McIlroy and Brendon Todd have committed themselves to Fort Worth and say they will do whatever is needed to return to competition. All three will be in action at Colonial, and McIlroy has committed to play the first three tournaments back, which will also include the RBC Heritage and Travelers Championship.
Asked if he had any reservations about playing, McIlroy said: “I don’t think so. If you take necessary precautions … face cover … washing hands … practicing social distancing, I really do think it is possible. If everyone follows guidelines, I don’t see why it’s not possible. I feel comfortable getting back out there.”
The specifics of how it is all going to work have been outlined in a document that has been sent to the players. The plan was put together with input from PGA Tour medical adviser Dr. Tom Hospel and the Federal Coronavirus Task Force, plus other specialists and laboratory directors.
The Tour will provide face masks and sanitiser at tournament sites, part of a significantly enhanced disinfectant and hygiene programme. But don’t expect to see any of the players wearing masks. The number of people allowed inside any structure concurrently will be monitored and restricted. Most important will be a comprehensive testing and screening programme that seeks to protect all involved.
Senior Vice President of Tournament Administration Andy Levinson said: “For the player and caddie group we are going to be providing that group with a pre-travel testing programme, and the purpose of this is really for those individuals to understand whether or not they have the virus before they travel to a tournament market.
“And then upon arrival,” he added, “everyone will report to a testing area where they will undergo all three screening methods: The questionnaire, thermal reading, and a PCR test. … Everybody who comes on-site at our events will have to go through a questionnaire and thermal screening before entering the property, and participation is a condition of competition.”
Although the results of PCR tests can take up to three days or longer, Levinson said the Tour is working with local laboratories in an effort to reduce that to “a matter of hours instead of a matter of days.”
The Tour insists that this will be done without taking resources away from local communities.
Anyone who presents with an elevated temperature will consult with a tournament physician, and in certain cases go from there to COVID-19 testing.
“In the event we have a positive test,” Levinson said, “we will comply with all local health authorities as well as CDC guidelines, and that would include isolating that individual and may require a period of isolation or an extended time.”
The Tour will support players with specialised medical care and supplies throughout the isolation period, he said, “and any player or caddie who were to test positive during an event would receive a stipend associated with the cost of that isolation period.”
Healthy players and caddies will have access to chartered jets between tournament sites. Levinson does admit, however, that there is no way to eradicate that risk completely.
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