- The 2020 Masters will be held without live fans November 9-15.
- The Masters was postponed from April due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Two weeks ago, the USGA announced that the US Open will be played without fans.
The PGA Tour was one of the first major US sports to return to action after the COVID-19 pandemic forced the shutdown of leagues and events worldwide. The sport returned without fans but the hope was that that would change at some point this season. In theory, golf could be the most ‘socially distanced’ of all major sports as it is played outdoors on sprawling courses. So far that hasn’t been the case and fans have continued to be barred from attending PGA events. At this point, it’s evident that there will be no live crowds allowed to attend PGA events through the end of the season.
That includes the biggest events in the sport. Earlier today, the Augusta National Golf Club announced that the 2020 Masters would be played without fans–called ‘patrons’ and ‘guests’ in the maddening parlance of the tradition obsessed club. The tournament was postponed from its traditional April data due to the COVID-19 pandemic but all along the Augusta National keep working to find a way to allow at least some ‘patrons’ and ‘guests’ to attend. Initially, the rescheduled dates of November 9 through 15 looked far enough way that the coronavirus pandemic might be in the rear view mirror.
Thanks to a completely bungled response by the United States political system at every level that hasn’t been the case. In fact, the opposite has occurred and in the process the US has become the epicenter of the pandemic and the laughing stock of the world. America has the highest number of cases and deaths of any country in the world and well into the pandemic has the 13th highest risk of infection of any country in the world. The government response has been a joke top to bottom and the economy is in shambles yet politicians squabble and pretend it isn’t happening.
The Masters’ home state of Georgia has arguably managed the coronavirus crisis worse than any state in the US. As of this writing, they have the highest COVID-19 risk factor in the country with 33.8 new cases daily per 100,000 (7 day moving average). That’s significantly more than the second highest risk state (Florida at 30.3 new cases per day) and more than double the national average of 16.2 new cases per day. By way of comparison, Canada’s current daily new case rate is 1.2 and most of the world’s economic powers in Europe and Asia have a daily new case rate of less than 1.
Fred Ridley, Chairman of Augusta National Golf Club, broke the bad news in a press release:
“Since our initial announcement to postpone the 2020 Masters, we have remained committed to a rescheduled Tournament in November while continually examining how best to host a global sporting event amid this pandemic. As we have considered the issues facing us, the health and safety of everyone associated with the Masters always has been our first and most important priority.”
“Throughout this process, we have consulted with health officials and a variety of subject matter experts. Ultimately, we determined that the potential risks of welcoming patrons and guests to our grounds in November are simply too significant to overcome.”
“Even in the current circumstances, staging the Masters without patrons is deeply disappointing. The guests who come to Augusta each spring from around the world are a key component to making the Tournament so special. Augusta National has the responsibility, however, to understand and accept the challenges associated with this virus and take the necessary precautions to conduct all aspects of the Tournament in a safe manner. We look forward to the day when we can welcome all of our patrons back, hopefully in April 2021.”
The move will have significant negative economic externalizes in Augusta and the surrounding area in Georgia and South Carolina. For many area businesses the Masters week is the ‘make or break’ event for the season. Local business leaders indicate that revenue during the month of the Masters is 300% higher than any other month of the year. In an economy already devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic the loss of the Masters is a punishing blow according to Bennish Brown, President and CEO of the Augusta Visitors Bureau:
“It’s going to be devastating for our community, for our businesses. I don’t know which ones may feel the pain more than others, but some businesses I think will be extremely, extremely difficult for them to rebound from,” he continued.
Now Brown and the broader community have to worry about the feasibility of a live crowd at the 2021 Masters:
“It’s how fast this whole nation recovers from the pandemic, when people are more comfortable traveling again, spending money again, being in close proximity to each other. All of those factors are still in play, so yeah, are we nervous about 2021? Absolutely.”
The fears are justified. The 2021-2022 season ‘officially’ begins September 10-13 with the Safeway Open in Napa, California. That event has already indicated that fans won’t be allowed. PGA Tour President Jay Monahan hopes that fans will be able to return before the end of the year but clearly in the current environment there are no certainties.