The PGA TOUR is moving ahead with plans to end its nearly three-month spell on the sidelines, with a view to returning to the fairways at the Charles Schwab Challenge.
‘It’s really a layered approach that we’ve taken, and the heart of it is social distancing,’ the TOUR’s senior vice-president and chief of operations Tyler Dennis told reporters on Wednesday, on a call that also included chief tournaments and competitions officer Andy Pazder and senior vice-president of tournament administration Andy Levinson.
The Charles Schwab Challenge is scheduled for 11 June at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas and will be one of the first sports arounds the world to resume work amid the continued impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
The layered approach will include plenty of testing.
Players and caddies will be expected to comply with medical questionnaires, thermal (temperature) readings and RT-PCR nasal swabs. It will start before they travel to tournaments and continue when they arrive.
‘We’re excited about how the PGA TOUR can play a role here in the world’s return, if you will, to enjoying things we love and doing so in a responsible manner,’ Dennis said.
Pazder concurred, calling this moment ‘a unique opportunity’ to lead the way.
Brooks Koepka and Rory McIlroy have said they’re in and will do whatever is needed to return to competition. Both will be in action at Colonial while McIlroy has said he’ll play the first three tournaments back, which will also include the RBC Heritage (South Carolina) and Travelers Championship (Connecticut).
Asked this week if he had any reservations, McIlroy said: ‘I don’t think so. If you take necessary precautions … face cover … washing hands … practicing social distancing, I really do think it is possible. If everyone follows guidelines, I don’t see why it’s not possible. Will be comfortable with logistics. I feel comfortable getting back out there.’
The return plan was two months in the making and formed with input from PGA TOUR medical adviser Dr Tom Hospel and the Federal Coronavirus Task Force, plus other specialists and laboratory directors, and in consultation with other professional sports leagues.
The TOUR will provide masks and sanitiser at tournament sites, part of a significantly enhanced disinfectant and hygiene program. The number of people allowed inside any structure concurrently will be monitored and restricted. Most important will be a comprehensive testing and screening program that seeks to protect all involved.
‘For the player and caddie group,’ Levinson said, ‘we are going to be providing that group with a pre‑travel testing program, and the purpose of this is really for those individuals to understand whether or not they have the virus before they travel to a tournament market.’
‘And then upon arrival,’ he added, ‘everyone will report to a testing area, likely at a designated hotel, where they will undergo all three screening methods: the questionnaire, thermal reading, and a PCR test. Everybody who comes on site at our events will have to go through a questionnaire and thermal screening before entering the property, and participation is a condition of competition.’
Although the results of PCR tests can take up to three days or longer, Levinson said the TOUR is working with local laboratories in an effort to shave that waiting time down to ‘a matter of hours instead of a matter of days’.
One caveat: it must be done without taking resources away from local communities.
‘We’re actually studying this very carefully,’ Dennis said, ‘and everything we’ve designed is being done in a way that does not do that.’
Anyone who presents with an elevated temperature will consult with a tournament physician, and in certain cases go from there to Covid-19 testing.
‘In the event we have a positive test,’ Levinson said, ‘we will comply with all local health authorities as well as CDC guidelines, and that would include isolating that individual and may require a period of isolation or an extended time.’
The TOUR will support players with specialised medical care and supplies throughout the isolation period, he said, ‘and any player or caddie who were to test positive during an event would receive a stipend associated with the cost of that isolation period’.
Healthy players and caddies will have access to chartered jets between tournament sites.
With the TOUR’s relaunch a month away, it’s all about minimising risk. Levinson freely admits there is no way to eradicate that risk completely, not yet, but as the players and caddies know best, with the toughest recovery shots there never is.
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