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Social distancing key to PGA Tour's 'responsible' return

China Daily | Updated: 2020-05-19 09:45
File Photo: Rory McIlroy celebrates with the FedEx Cup after winning the Tour Championship golf tournament at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, US on Aug 25, 2019. [Photo/Agencies]

The PGA Tour took the next step toward its safe return to golf this week, outlining to players the health and safety measures the organization will undertake when 2019-20 FedExCup play resumes next month at the Charles Schwab Challenge.

The 37-page document, which was sent to players on May 12, previews a comprehensive testing and screening plan that will await players in Fort Worth, Texas, on June 8.

Tour staff have crafted the plan alongside leading medical experts from Harvard Medical School, with input from the US Federal Coronavirus Task Force and fellow professional sports leagues, as well as other specialists and laboratory experts.

"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," said Tyler Dennis, the tour's senior vice-president and chief of operations.

"We have spent a lot of time being very thoughtful, diligent and trying to be transparent with all of our constituent groups and thinking through what we're calling our return-to-golf plan."

As detailed and cautious as the plan may be, Dennis reiterated that the tour will not play if it cannot do so in a safe and healthy environment. And the plan will continue to evolve as necessary.

"It's really a layered approach that we've taken, and the heart of it is social distancing," he said. "It's something we're all quite accustomed to in our personal lives now. We know we can go throughout our day and week at a tournament site in a socially distant manner. That's really critical to the overall health and safety plan."

Those social-distancing measures include a ban on post-round handshakes and high-fives, while players will access their own golf bags instead of the caddie.

"We have taken the time to think really through a day in the competitive life of a player and caddie and how we need to make some small adjustments in places to ensure that we can be as comprehensive as possible with our health and safety," Dennis said.

Layered on top of those social-distancing procedures is a testing and screening plan, as well as comprehensive disinfecting and hygiene practices. An average of 400 people are expected to be tested each week.

Players, caddies and other officials will take part in a required pre-travel testing program and then undergo a trio of screening methods upon arrival at a tournament. This will include answering questions, submitting to a thermal temperature reading and a nasal swab test, which diagnoses COVID-19.

In the event of an elevated temperature of more than 38 Celsius (100.4 Fahrenheit) during the daily thermal screen, the tour will initiate a protocol that could include a COVID-19 test.

The tour aims to have test results back within 24 to 48 hours, though it has identified local laboratories that are not burdened with community testing to help decrease turnaround time. While awaiting test results, players are allowed to practice and play as long as they practice social distancing and do not use on-site facilities.

In the event of a positive test, the person must isolate for a minimum of 10 days. The tour and tournaments will both provide support throughout any potential isolation period.

That limited access begins first with spectators, who are not allowed at any of the tour's first four events once play resumes.

Pro-ams have also been barred in the near term.

Fans' attendance at any tournament beyond the initial four events has not been determined. Beyond that, players' families will not be permitted on site, and golfers' support staff will be limited to an instructor, coach or interpreter. Clubhouse access will also be restricted to those who are cleared through testing.

Media will be limited, and one-on-one interviews will also be disallowed. All media sessions will take place in a "socially-distance-conscious" flash area.

Face masks and sanitary items will be available throughout each venue where the tour plays.

"We've really taken the approach of looking at every single person who's on site, walking a day in their shoes, trying to recognize those touch points and understanding ways that we can mitigate that," said Andy Levinson, the tour's chief tournaments and competitions officer.

The tour's controlled "bubble "will be extended beyond the golf course, too. Players are encouraged to stay at one designated host hotel, and the tour will provide charter flights between PGA Tour, PGA Tour Champions and Korn Ferry Tour events, to a maximum of 170 players and caddies. Courtesy cars will be decided by each event but using ride-share services will not be permitted.

"We're going to ask players to act as if they are now and how they have been for the past couple of months, which is a safer-at-home philosophy," Levinson said.

"That means not going into crowded areas, not going to restaurants necessarily but doing takeouts instead, and we're going to work with the local hotels to ensure that they have proper health and safety plans.

"It's important for us to mitigate the risk wherever we can, and we also have an obligation to the communities in which we're playing, an obligation to the people who are going to be watching us in our broadcast, and that is to set a good example, and we believe we can do that with the plan we've set forth."

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