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No fans will be allowed at The Players due to coronavirus

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – The Players Championship will go on as scheduled – without spectators.

PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan announced Thursday its flagship event will continue but fans will not be allowed onto the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass beginning Friday out of concerns about the coronavirus. The Tour also said fans will not be permitted at tournaments through the Valero Texas Open, which begins April 2 in San Antonio.

The Masters is the following week, scheduled to begin April 9. Monahan has been in contact with Augusta National Golf Club officials but would not disclose any contingency plans discussed.

The Tour’s announcement means there will be no spectators at next week’s Valspar Championship in Palm Harbor, Florida, or the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin the following week.

PLAYERS: Tee times, TV | Scores | Photos

“It’s important to note that could change,” Monahan said. “But for the time being, this decision allows the PGA Tour, our fans and constituents to plan, prepare and respond as events develop.”

Monahan said the Tour had been communicating with President Trump, Florida governor Ron DeSantis and health officials before making the decision. He added that officials had considered suspending tournaments altogether, as other professional sports leagues have done, but he felt “this is a safe environment” for 144 players and limited staff on site.

Jim and Alice Rasmussen use the hand sanitizer station at the 2020 edition of The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass. Photo by Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

“This is a difficult situation, one with consequences that impact our players, fans and the communities in which we play,” Monahan said. “As I said earlier this week, we’ve had a team in place that has been carefully monitoring and assessing the situation and its implications for several weeks.”

Some on social media have questioned whether the Tour had acted quickly enough as other big sporting events nationally such as college basketball tournaments and the professional tennis tournament at Indian Wells have been shut down this week.

“I think it’s natural to feel pressure to do what others have done,” Monahan said. “I think you have to look at what’s unique to your sport relative to what others have done, and I think our sport is unique, particularly given the venues where we host our tournaments.”

Fans were allowed on the grounds for Thursday’s first round but will not be permitted for the rest of the tournament. The PGA Tour also announced that players have been told not to sign autographs and there was signage on the course to alert fans of the new policy. The Tour was expecting 200,000 fans over the course of the week.

The Tour’s decision comes a day after the NCAA announced the men’s and women’s championship basketball tournaments would proceed without fans out of concerns for the virus, and the NBA suspended its season after Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz tested positive for the coronavirus.

Golf tournaments across the globe have already been impacted by concerns about coronavirus. The European Tour has postponed four tournaments, those in Shenzen, China; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; New Delhi, India; and Nairobi, Kenya. The LPGA canceled three tournaments that were part of its Asian swing, calling off stops in China, Thailand and Singapore.

A view of the 17th hole during the first round of the 2020 edition of the Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass. Photo by Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Monahan and other officials have faced questions for weeks about whether tournaments would be canceled or postponed at a time when large festivals such as Coachella and South by Southwest have been affected. Tour officials have been in daily contact with the CDC and WHO for updates.

Some players this week at the Players Championship said they would try to limit direct contact with fans.

“I’m more doing a wave or a thumbs up,” Rickie Fowler said. “You just don’t know. I was already doing this before the coronavirus came up.”

Fowler was also asked about the possibility the Tour could prohibit fans from coming out to tournaments.

“I’ve heard that was thrown around as a rare potential,” he said. “It would go back to junior golf, amateur golf, some college golf days when it was only your family and friends out there. It would be a very different feel.”

The most recent PGA Tour tournament that was played without spectators came at last year’s Zozo Championship in Tokyo, where Tiger Woods won his record-tying 82nd PGA Tour title. After torrential rainfall, flooding and mudslides in the area washed out play on Friday, tournament officials closed the course to spectators for Saturday’s second round. The tournament finished on Monday.

“There’s an element here of we have the best players in the world and everybody in this country and around the world is trying to figure this out and sports is the great unifier,” Monahan said. “If you can put this event on television it’s going to be a source of inspiration for some people, particularly if you can do it in a safe way for those that are on property, and that’s where we think we are.”

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