Do azaleas bloom in Augusta the second week of November?
By that point, will anyone care, or will the chance to watch the Masters override everything, even if the place looks more like your local muni than its traditional resplendency?
The world’s greatest golf tournament was supposed to start this week. But that was before the coronavirus. On Monday, the golf world countered by sending out a glimmer of hope for a return to normalcy. Actually, it was a pretty well-coordinated plan for things to return, starting as early as June and ramping up into a huge end of summer/fall run of golf.
That includes the Masters, pushed back from its traditional early April date, to be staged Nov. 9-15.
Officially, Augusta National, like all other golf governing bodies, is calling those the “intended dates” and making no firm promises as it vows to continue to work with “local, state and national health organizations.” If it can stage the event, the club says it wants to go full-boat, meaning it will “welcome all existing ticket holders to enjoy the excitement of Masters week.”
In other words, fans present.
“We hope the anticipation of staging the Masters in the fall brings a moment of joy to the Augusta community and all those who love the sport,” chairman Fred Ridley wrote.
It no doubt did. Is this realistic, though?
November is a long way off, so who knows? Without a vaccine, crowding around greens and tee boxes to watch golf and munch on pimento cheese sandwiches may prove illogical, if not impossible. Augusta said anyone who won badges through the lottery for 2020 could defer to 2021, when it expects to return to its April date.
Then again, by November we may have developed mass testing, antidotes, herd immunity or any other victory over the virus that makes this possible.
If the patrons (Augusta National lingo) can’t make it, well, so be it. Most people just watch on TV anyway and are desperate for a distraction.
Golf seems like one of the safest sporting events to put on during a pandemic. It would require close interaction between the golfer and his caddie, but not much else (and even then, precautions could mitigate much of that risk).
The Masters field is usually just 85 or so players (65 after the cut). Augusta National is sprawled across 345 acres. It is already about the cleanest place on Earth and almost completely walled off from outside society, i.e. the regular people driving on Washington Road.
Players can skip the locker room and change at home. During competition, they can easily remain six feet apart. There would be some rules officials, but they don’t need to get near anyone. Maybe a scaled back television broadcast? Jim Nantz could say hello to his friends from a sterile studio somewhere.
Each hole could have a greenskeeper in the Bill Murray hazmat suit used to clean the pool in “Caddyshack.” He or she could be the official person to pick the ball out of the cup and sanitize everything. Maybe use a new ball on every hole?
Ideal? No, but what is ideal right now?
Golf should be aggressive in seeking a return. It’s why the PGA Tour stated on Monday it was looking at returning as soon as June. Details were scarce, but again, it seems possible, at least. For a world desperate for entertainment while dealing with the stress and isolation of this virus, it makes sense.
The British Open, set for July, is canceled.
Everything else is a go. For now.
The PGA Championship, originally scheduled for May, will move to Aug. 3-9 at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco.
The three-week FedEx Cup to crown a tour champion will run from Aug. 10-Sept. 7 outside Boston, Chicago and Atlanta.
The U.S. Open is moving from June to Sept. 14-20 at Winged Foot, outside New York.
The Ryder Cup will keep its Sept. 22-27 date at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin.
If all of this goes off as it is now scheduled, it would be the most incredible stretch of golf ever — the PGA Championship, FedEx Cup, U.S. Open and Ryder Cup across an eight-week stretch.
The question is: Can it? It might. Local jurisdictions will play a major role in allowing it — this isn’t a national or international decision. Yet with so many controls in place and so few people congregating on such a large parcel of land, it seems way easier to greenlight than a football season.
If we are at the point where fans are present — they add to the drama — then even better. If not, then this would still be great television.
“Sports, and particularly the game of golf, are important vehicles for healing and hope,” PGA CEO Seth Waugh said. “... With our country going through extremely difficult times, it will be an honor for all of us at the PGA of America to hopefully turn a page.”
Hopefully. With or without the azaleas.
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