The Masters on Halloween? Golf weighs tradition against the calendar

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By: New York Times |

Published: April 2, 2020 3:05:34 pm


Tiger Woods. (USA Today Sports)

By Bill Pennington

If golf’s biggest events are to be salvaged this year, the game’s leaders must find an uncommon wellspring of creativity and flexibility. The first two men’s Grand Slam events of the year, the Masters and the PGA Championship, have already been postponed indefinitely, and the schedules for the two others, the U.S. and British Opens, are teetering as the coronavirus increasingly alters lives around the globe.

Assuming that health officials give the game’s chief governing bodies approval to start rescheduling this year, it is highly unlikely that 2020 will pass without a single men’s major golf championship: The indomitable Augusta National Golf Club, if given the go-ahead, would probably host the final round of the Masters with flashlights on New Year’s Eve.

But even in best-case scenarios, the time-honored rhythms of the golf calendar are poised for a strident jolt.

The Masters will not be a springtime ritual this year; instead the club’s leadership has discussed holding the tournament closer to Thanksgiving. The U.S. Open, which is certain to be delayed soon, may not end on Father’s Day, as always, but could become part of Labor Day weekend — joining that other early September tradition, the Kentucky Derby.

All things considered, disruptions on that scale would be remarkably good news since it would mean there had been progress in stemming the pandemic. But to even prepare for such situations, the negotiating of golf’s jumbled schedule must take place among the chief governing bodies in the sport, which have competing self interests.

Five separate leadership entities in golf must collaborate toward a new men’s championship schedule. The parties at the table are Augusta National; the United States Golf Association, which conducts the U.S. Open; the PGA of America, which sponsors the PGA Championship; the R&A, host of the British Open; and the PGA Tour, which last month suspended its nearly year-round agenda of tournaments.

Golf’s minders remain hopeful that health officials will at some point give their assent to holding the majors. All kinds of contingency plans are on the table — from condensing the size of the fields so that play can be completed in the shrinking light of fall, to finishing a tournament on a Saturday so that the last round does not compete with a full slate of Sunday NFL games.

Each organization comes into the negotiation with their own constraints and ambitions. The British Open, scheduled for Royal St. George’s Golf Club in mid-July, cannot be delayed too long without a radical reconsideration because there will be less than 12 hours of daylight in southeastern England by Oct. 1. The R&A would have to consult its broadcast partner, NBC, about any changes to the event.

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The U.S. Open, which is set to air on Fox Sports, would rather not ditch its plans to play this year’s event at the Winged Foot Golf Club in Westchester County, New York. A new date in early September is being weighed. But can there be a more challenging place right now to try to schedule a huge event than just outside New York City?

The PGA Championship would also like to keep its original location, TPC Harding Park in San Francisco, where weather tends to be favorable even late in the year. But the PGA also said it hoped to play its championship “this summer,” and in this trying year there will be a certain status associated with being the inaugural golf major contested — a privilege usually reserved for the Masters. CBS owns the rights to air both.

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