PGA Tour aims to allow spectators to return in early 2021

ATLANTA — The PGA Tour has gone five straight weeks without a player or caddy testing positive for the coronavirus and has made it to the end of its 2019-2020 season with a relatively low number of cases since returning from the pandemic shutdown in June.

There have been 14 tournaments played across 13 weeks, all without spectators.

But slowly, the PGA Tour will attempt to bring those spectators back to the course. PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan would not commit to a timeline, but Kevin Kisner, a player director on the PGA Tour’s nine-member policy board, said he could see some movement around the first of the year.

“I think we will transition to spectators as soon as we feel like we have a good plan that the players are comfortable with,” Kisner said Thursday at East Lake Golf Club, where the Tour Championship begins Friday. “We need the fans back. Without the fans, the tournaments aren’t the same, the revenues aren’t the same. We need them back. All of us want to play in front of fans. We appreciate having people applauding our golf shots other than the one or two volunteers on a hole.

“I think the start of the new year, we’ll probably transition into trying something. Obviously it takes time. And what we’ve done with this pro-am thing, is we started on the Champions Tour and the Korn Ferry Tour to test it, and maybe we’ll test some fans out there to see how the protocols work. I think we’ll start with a very limited number and transition from there.”

The PGA Tour Champions and the developmental Korn Ferry Tour have brought back pro-ams, which are a significant revenue source each week. The PGA Tour plans to have its first pro-am in three weeks at its event in the Dominican Republic.

Next week, the PGA Tour Champions will allow a limited number of spectators at the Sanford International in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. It will mark the first time that any of the tour’s circuits will allow spectators on site the since the March shutdown. The hope is to have about 5,000 people per day.

“As we’ve seen throughout this whole process, each week we’ve adapted to the new guidelines and the new ways of the tour and we just ease into each thing and hopefully return to normal as soon as possible.”

Monahan said Wednesday that the PGA Tour is aware of various at-home testing procedures that could produce a fast COVID-19 result and might be of use for spectators.

Kisner, in his role on the policy board, said he felt like he’s been on the phone “a million” hours talking through the various issues as the PGA Tour sought to return and has kept going through the pandemic. He said testing advancements are important, but not necessarily required, to bring back spectators, at least in the short term.

“I would not think that we would be at a point that we’d have to test every spectator,” Kisner said. “But I think we could change the way the rope lines work to limit contact, and have way more volunteers that maybe we tested to help us limit the contact.

“If you listen to the CDC guidelines, if they’re not within 6 feet, you shouldn’t have an issue, right? So as long as we stay away from each other, we wear our masks when we’re inside, we have the safest environment in the world to play our sport — and we can come up with a way to keep people away from us and people to be entertained, I think we can move in that direction soon.”

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