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PGA Tour’s return plan: Minimize risk with regular testing, no handshakes

In a conference call with reporters Wednesday, PGA Tour officials said players will be tested for the virus before leaving their homes and when they arrive on site, just one of the measures being put in place in an attempt to resume the season June 11 with the Charles Schwab Challenge in Fort Worth.

“Just to be perfectly clear: We’re not going to play if we can’t do it in a safe and healthy environment for all of our constituents,” said Tyler Denis, the PGA Tour’s senior vice president and chief of operations.

The tour has scheduled a run of four events without fans — in Texas, South Carolina, Connecticut and Michigan. They would be staged under “return to golf” protocols that were developed, officials said, following consultation with medical and government officials. There is no set date to allow fans back on site.

The plan relies heavily on social distancing not just among competitors and support personnel but even between players and caddies. Normally, players and caddies confer in quiet conversations in proximity, standing directly next to each other. That behavior is among many that officials expect would have to be altered to stage a tournament in safe conditions, including allowing only the caddies to touch flagsticks and rakes, requiring players and caddies to use disinfectant after each hole and maintaining what is now the standard six feet of distance between any two people on site.

“Our goal is to minimize risk as much as possible,” said Andy Levinson, the tour’s senior vice president of tournament administration, “with the full understanding that there is no way to eliminate all of the risk.”

Some of the measures at the outset are extraordinary. Not only would the tour limit the number of people on site at a given event — including support personnel, sponsors and media — but the season would reopen with players being asked to leave their families at home. Players would be asked to stay at hotels the tour has consulted with and considered safe, and they would be encouraged to order takeout or room service rather than eating at restaurants.

“We are going to implement measures to ensure social distancing, whether that’s in practice areas, whether that’s in the buildings, whether that’s anybody who’s on site,” Levinson said. “So we’ve taken the approach of looking at every single person who’s on site, walking a day in their shoes, trying to recognize those touch points and understanding ways that we can mitigate that.”

Tour officials said the purses for each event — which range between $7.4 million and $7.8 million for the four events on the calendar — will remain the same. The last PGA Tour event completed was the Arnold Palmer Invitational on March 8. The Players Championship was canceled midstream the following week, and players will have missed out on more than $100 million in purse money by the time play resumes.

Officials said the PGA Tour would be offering a charter flight between events but acknowledged that there would not be room for all players and caddies. Some would have to take private aviation — a means of transportation many high-profile players elect anyway — and others may have to travel commercially. Officials said they are working with federal authorities to get perhaps 25 regular tour players who live overseas back to the United States legally and in time to quarantine for 14 days before they show up for competition.

Should a player test positive for the coronavirus, which causes the disease covid-19, he would be required to withdraw from the event, and officials would begin tracing procedures to determine whether he had come into close contact with anyone else.

Tour officials were adamant they would not tap into a local community’s supply of viral tests to administer the estimated 400 nasal-swab tests needed at each event. In addition, the temperature of players, caddies and others will be taken upon arriving at a venue, and they will be asked a series of questions designed to gain an understanding of their recent and long-term health conditions. The tour said it would cover the costs of all the testing in addition to paying for face masks — which players would be permitted, but not required, to wear — and disinfectant wipes.

That said, there will be differences in the visuals that television viewers see.

“We’re not going to be shaking hands at the end of rounds, not going to be high-fiving,” Dennis said. “That will have to be reimagined as a tip of the cap or an air fist-bump or something from a distance.”

“It’s important for us to mitigate the risk wherever we can,” Levinson said. “And we also have an obligation — an obligation to the communities in which we’re playing, an obligation to the people who are going to be watching us in our broadcast — and that is to set a good example, and we believe we can do that with the plan we’ve set forth.”

Three of the four major championships — the PGA Championship, the U.S. Open and the Masters, all run by governing bodies that are not the PGA Tour — have been rescheduled for later in the year. The British Open was canceled.

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