Golf & COVID-19
May 23, 2020

U.S. government clears way for pro golfers and athletes in other countries to return for competition

The Honda Classic - Round Two

The Honda Classic - Round Two

Lee Westwood has said he will not travel to the U.S. to compete in the first two tournaments scheduled by the PGA Tour in June.

Photo by: Sam Greenwood

Sam Greenwood

Lee Westwood has said he will not travel to the U.S. to compete in the first two tournaments scheduled by the PGA Tour in June.

The path has been cleared. Now golfers from around the world will have to make the decision if they want to use it.

The Acting Secretary of Homeland Security, Chad F. Wolf, on Friday signed an order that will allow certain professional athletes who compete in sporting events, along with their essential staff and dependents, to enter the United States. Officially, the international athletes will be exempt from entry restrictions that were established for non-U.S. residents as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, though they still face a 14-day quarantine upon arrival.

The PGA Tour and LPGA are among eight organizations whose athletes are exempted. The others are Major League Baseball, the NBA, NHL, WNBA, ATP and WTA. The countries and regions affected by the exemption include the United Kingdom, Ireland, Europe, China and Iran.

In announcing the order, Wolf wrote, “Professional sporting events provide much needed economic benefits, but equally important, they provide community pride and national unity. In today’s environment, Americans need their sports. It’s time to reopen the economy and it’s time we get our professional athletes back to work.”

The PGA Tour is set to resume play on June 11 with the Charles Schwab Challenge in Fort Worth, Texas. The LPGA is scheduled to return July 23 for the Marathon Classic in Sylvania, Ohio.

The issue now becomes how many athletes will use the exemption. The PGA Tour has said it has approximately 25 member players who currently are outside of the U.S. Among those who already have said they are choosing not to travel to compete intially in the States are Australian Adam Scott, and Englishmen Lee Westwood and Tommy Fleetwood.

Westwood, who lives in the U.K., said he would not play in at least the first two tournaments on the PGA Tour schedule, the Charles Schwab and RBC Heritage in Hilton Head, S.C. If he did so and returned to England, he also would face a two-week quarantine on the back end.

“It's six weeks for two tournaments, and to me, that's just not worth it,” Westwood said.

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In another development on Friday, the PGA Tour shared in a memo to its players the plans for chartered air travel once tournaments resume. As first reported by Golf Channel, there will be 114 seats available on a Boeing 737 that will transport players and caddies on Monday from the site of the previous tournament to the next one. The capacity is limited because center seats will not be used.

Players will be required to undergo a saliva test for COVID-19 following the third round of the current tournament, and only those testing negative will be allowed on the flight. All passengers will have to wear facial covering, with access to available seats established by the players' priority ranking used to draw pro-am fields.

With 144 entrants in many fields for the summer, there will be more players than seats avaiable, though some golfers are expected to make alternative travel plans. In the memo, the Tour "strongly encouraged" that players use the charter. The cost is $600 for PGA Tour players and $300 for members of the Korn Ferry Tour.