As coronavirus concerns ripple across sports world, golf bides its time

March 11, 2020

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EDITOR'S NOTE—This story was first posted at 6:25 p.m. Wednesday. It was updated at 12:55 a.m. Thursday from its original posting.

PONTE VEDRA BEACH — The fate of this year’s PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park didn’t directly change on Wednesday, but it got potentially muddied.

On Wednesday, San Francisco Mayor London Breed announced a ban on all events across in the city with a gathering of larger than 1,000 people in the wake of the spreading COVID-19 virus.

“San Francisco will officially ban large events over 1,000 people, including Warriors games,” the city’s supervisor Matt Haney tweeted shortly after the San Francisco Chronicle reported the news. “Effective tomorrow, the ban will last at least two weeks. Other counties and states have taken similar steps. Public health must be first priority."

The PGA Championship is to be played May 14-17 at Harding Park in San Francisco. According to the PGA of America, it is still expected to be played as scheduled.

“Reports that the 2020 PGA Championship will be relocated from TPC Harding Park are inaccurate,” the association said in a statement on Tuesday. “At this time, no such discussions have taken place. We continue to carefully monitor this rapidly evolving situation, in close coordination and communication with representatives from San Francisco. We will follow the guidance of state and city officials and public health authorities, keeping the safety and well-being of all involved as our highest priority.”

A day later and after the news from San Francisco broke, a spokesperson from the PGA of America said there was no change from its initial statement. The situation remains fluid, however, the spokesperson said, with multiple contingency plans under consideration.

Unclear is whether the fact that the golf tournament will be played outdoors over a multi-acre footprint would make it any more or less likely to go on as planned.

Meanwhile, the NCAA announced on Wednesday that it also would make adjustments in the wake of the ongoing coronavirus crisis, which was declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization earlier in the day. Play for its upcoming men’s and women’s basketball tournament games will go on without fans. The same policy was also being implemented at several conference championship tournaments this week.

On Wednesday evening, two more developments occurred: President Donald Trump announced a ban on travelers to the United States from Europe would be in place for the next 30 days and the NBA announced it was suspending its season after a member of the Utah Jazz had been diagnosed with the coronavirus.

How the ripple effect of decisions from federal, state and local governments and other sports organizations will impact the world of golf remains unclear. On Tuesday, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said that the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play Championship, scheduled for March 25-29 at Austin Country Club—the same city where the SXSW music festival was canceled—will be played as scheduled, as well as all other PGA Tour events.

“We feel like we have support to continue to move forward with the event, full support,” Monahan said. "But … this thing is so dynamic that you just have to go hour-to-hour, day-to-day, but right now we have every assurance that we’ll be in Austin for the event.“


Stan Badz/PGA Tour

Added WGC-Dell Match Play tournament director Jordan Uppleger on Tuesday evening: “Our No. 1 priority is the health and safety of our tournament teams, volunteers, players, fans, sponsors, community and anyone associated with the event, but with the information we currently have available, we don’t foresee [canceling or re-scheduling]. We have been and are continuing to monitor the developing situation closely through updates from the Centers for Disease Control, World Health Organization and local health officials and gathering specific information to our event. Based upon current knowledge and their recommendations on planning for mass gatherings, we are proceeding as scheduled with the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play later this month. We will continue to review the available information with authorities and take appropriate action as advised.“

More immediately, the question arose on Wednesday evening after the announcements from the president and the NBA announcement whether the status of this week's Players Championship might change. Just after midnight on Thursday morning, the PGA Tour released a statement stating that the Players would continue as scheduled, with ticket holders having the opportunity to get a refund or exchange. The tour also said it would announce an additional update about the tournament at noon on Thursday.

After postponing three tournaments in Asia because of concerns over the coronavirus, the LPGA Tour is set to resume its schedule next week at the Volvik Founders Cup in Phoenix, followed by the Kia Classic in Carlsbad, Calif., and the ANA Inspiration, the tour’s first major of 2020, in Rancho Mirage, Calif. When contacted early on Wednesday, an LPGA representative said via a statement that all three tournaments were still to be played as scheduled.

“The LPGA Tour continues to closely monitor all information related to the coronavirus in partnership with our security and medical teams, the CDC and the WHO," the statement read. "At this time, there are no plans to cancel any upcoming LPGA Tour events. However, like other major sporting leagues and entities, we are planning for different scenarios and will take into consideration all relevant information, including the guidance and directives of local health officials in the regions in which we play.

“We are in frequent contact with our Members, nearly all of whom have been in the United States for some time. While we plan to move forward with our events as scheduled, we have added some heightened measures of precautions to protect athletes and fans at our tournaments, including installing additional sanitizer stations, reminding all people on-site to practice safe hygiene and providing players with autograph cards. The health and safety of our players, fans, employees, partners and volunteers will always remain the LPGA Tour’s highest priority and we empathize with those affected by the coronavirus around the world.”

The European Tour on Wednesday announced that it was postponing next week's Hero Indian Open, the fourth tournament on the Tour's 2019-'20 schedule that has been canceled because of coronavirus fears.

In a statement issued last week, Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley said the plan was for the Masters to be played as scheduled next month.