Tour plans constant testing, limited access for golf return
Players, caddies and key staff around them will be tested once a week for the new coronavirus, and everyone at the golf course will have their temperatures taken every day when the PGA Tour returns next month and tries to show it can resume its season with minimal risks.
Testing was a big part of the process outlined Wednesday that revealed significant changes to how tournaments are conducted.
No pro-ams. No spectators for at least a month, perhaps longer. No family members. No dry cleaning. And social distancing everywhere from the clubhouse to the practice range.
“Our goal is to minimize risk as much as possible, with the full understanding that there is no way to eliminate all of the risk,” said Andy Levinson, senior vice president of tournament administration for the tour. “But one of the best ways we can do that, to reduce the likelihood of exposure, is by limiting the number of people we have on site and limiting access to certain areas, keeping groups separated.”
It starts June 8-14 at Colonial with the Charles Schwab Challenge in Fort Worth, Texas.
Testing and social distancing was the backbone of the 37-page presentation titled “Return to Golf Events.” The idea is to keep players and essential staff in a bubble, and those estimated 400 people would be tested for COVID-19. Players would have a designated hotel unless they had other options the tour approved. Charter flights were made available for $600 a seat ($300 for caddies), and another test would be required before they fly and when they land in a new city for the next tournament.
Everyone on site will have thermal readings and a health questionnaire daily.
“We’re not going to play if we can’t do it in a safe and healthy environmental for all our constituents,” said Tyler Dennis, the tour’s chief of operations.
And the tournament won’t shut down if someone tests positive. Such a player would have to withdraw immediately and self-isolate for at least 10 days, provided there are no subsequent symptoms and he gets two negative test results 24 hours part.
“That was the No. 1 concern,” said Russell Knox, who serves on the Player Advisory Council. “Nobody wants to go through that in a hotel. You’re going to be away from your family and someone will knock on the door every few hours with food.”
He also said that was a key message from Commissioner Jay Monahan: Risks remain and everyone has to sacrifice something from what had been a comfort-driven lifestyle.
The tour said it would provide a stipend to pay for costs associated with anyone having to self-isolate. The tour also is providing masks for whoever wants them and will cover the costs of all testing each week, whether it’s the RT-PCR nasal swab test or thermal screening. Each tournament picks up the tab for hand sanitizer stations and a hygiene plan on site.
Results from the nasal swab typically take a couple of days, and the tour is hopeful of using local labs when available for a quicker turnaround. Players can practice on the course but do not have access to facilities on site until the test results are back.
On the golf course, players are to handle their own clubs and let their caddies rake bunkers and remove the pins, wiping down both after they’re done with them.
Another change: No shaking hands after the round.
Players can still travel and stay in RVs — Knox plans to drive his from Jacksonville, Florida, to Fort Worth, and then to Hilton Head, South Carolina — or rental homes if the tour approves. Those who live in town can stay at home.
The tour said about 25 players remain overseas and recommended they arrive at least two weeks ahead of the tournament to meet the federal 14-day quarantine requirement.
Media will be limited in a press center with social distancing. Two or three reporters will conduct interviews for a pool report.
Levinson said the tour felt one COVID-19 test was ample with other measures in place, such as the daily questionnaire and thermal reading. Anyone who registers a temperature over 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit (30 Celsius) will go into a testing protocol.
“A test is a point in time. We understand that,” Levinson said. “But we also know that the precautions that we’re taking ... our medical advisers are telling us that maintaining social distancing, asking people questions, going through thermal screens are going to significantly minimize risk of exposure, not to mention all the disinfecting procedures that we’re going to be implementing."
“We feel that — as our medical advisers do — that one test per week is a significant amount of viral testing, on top of everything else in our plan.”