The PGA Tour is stressing the importance of various social distancing measures and stay-in-place initiatives as the organization attempts to return in June after what will be a three-month shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Some of that will be unrealistic as players and caddies attempt to go about their normal routines during the course of a day at tournaments.
Nonetheless, executives are emphasizing the need to follow strict protocols because the tour is likely to administer just one COVID-19 test per person during a tournament week, with pre-screening and daily temperature checks also part of the procedure.
“We view this as a unique opportunity for the PGA Tour, our players and our sport in general to help lead the way from that standpoint,” said Andy Pazder, the PGA Tour’s chief tournaments and competitions officer. “We take that responsibility to heart.
“It will come down to, on the field of play, relying on players and caddies to have that social distancing requirement in the forefront of their minds. We’ll provide constant reminders. We’re confident that they understand the significant responsibility they carry in making our return very successful.”
The tour sent a 37-page memo to players Tuesday — outlining everything from testing to social distancing, from accommodations to travel to driving range protocol — with the idea of returning to competition June 11 at the Charles Schwab Challenge in Fort Worth, Texas.
The schedule calls for the first four events to be played without spectators and to assess the situation beyond that to see if subsequent events can be played with fans.
“It’s really a layered approach that we’ve taken, and the heart of it is social distancing,” said Tyler Dennis, senior vice president and chief of operations. “It’s something we’re all quite accustomed to in our personal lives now. And as we’ve looked at a golf tournament and each constituent, whether you’re a player or a caddie or a member of the media or any other person that might be there, we know that we can go throughout our day and week at a tournament site in a socially distant manner, and that’s really critical to the overall health and safety plan.”
The plan for players, caddies and various support personnel is to receive a pre-travel screening test that will be administered again when arriving on site. At that time, likely at a tour-designated hotel, an RT-PCR nasal swab or saliva test for COVID-19 will be administered, with results expected within 48 hours.
Players will be allowed to practice on site while awaiting test results, with that turnaround expected to be faster as time passes. Each day, there will be screening that includes a questionnaire and a thermal test.
Like a drug test, taking a COVID-19 test will be required to compete.
The tour said it would not disclose the names of any players who test positive — due to medical privacy concerns — and it will be up to the individuals to release that information. But the player will be required to withdraw. If that happens after a golfer makes the 36-hole cut, he will receive last-place money.
The COVID-19 test will also be required of any players or caddies who elect to travel between events on a charter arranged by the tour.
The tour expects to be administering about 400 tests per week.
“We feel confident we will be able to conduct our testing in a manner that is not taking way from the community,” said Andy Levinson, the tour’s senior vice president of tournament administration. “We will be providing our own supplies and sourcing all of that as well.”
A positive test for a player or multiple players will not necessarily cause the event to be stopped.
“There’s not a specific number that we’re focused on,” Levinson said. “When there is a positive test, there does have to be some contact tracing that takes place, which is why social distancing is so important. And so we haven’t identified a specific number. But obviously, if it was a large number, then we would have to evaluate the situation.”
Levinson said the PCR test is effective in identifying asymptomatic carriers and is a reason why more than one viral test would not be administered.
“A test is a point in time, we understand that,” Levinson said. “But we also know that the precautions 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 do anticipate a lot of players playing week to week, so they’ll be doing a pre-travel test, they’ll be doing a test when they arrive in each market. And we feel as our medical advisers do, that one test per week is a significant amount of viral testing, on top of the layered approach that we’re taking with everything else in our plan.”