After weeks of daily conference calls in a frantic bid to rescue a season crippled by the COVID-19 pandemic, golf’s governing bodies are close to unveiling a new schedule that would see at least three major championships — including the Masters in November — and the Ryder Cup contested this year.
The details of the ambitious revised schedule were outlined to Golfweek by three people close to the discussions, all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity since they are not authorized to address the matter publicly.
The planned joint announcement of a new schedule has been delayed while the R&A decides if the 149th Open Championship — slated for July 16-19 at Royal St. George’s in England — will be postponed or canceled entirely. A rescheduled Open would take place at the same venue from Sept. 17-20 — just one week before the Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin. If the R&A opts to cancel, that slot on the calendar could see the U.S. Open played at Winged Foot.
“At this point we are not in a position to confirm any specific dates. While we are hopeful that we will be able to conduct the U.S. Open at Winged Foot Golf Club in June, it is increasingly likely that we will need to postpone,” said Craig Annis, the USGA’s chief brand officer. “We have been working with our broadcast partner Fox Sports, the PGA Tour, and other golf organizations to determine what a viable postponement date could be should we need to make that decision. We are currently considering a number of options and expect to be in a position to announce a decision by next week.”
One of those options under consideration: holding the U.S. Open later in the year on the West coast. The USGA has had initial conversations with two potential venues in California: Torrey Pines near San Diego, which has long been in line to host the Open in ’21, and Pebble Beach, where the ’19 edition was played. Annis acknowledged conversations are underway with several alternate venues and did not rule out a move west.
“Depending on how far out we might have to go it could mean that we need to find a new location. If we get beyond September we would need to find a U.S. Open-ready course in a place with the right climate and agronomics, with consideration to available daylight hours,” he said. “We are fortunate to have a number of USGA host site partners who we are engaging with to determine viability.”
Both Torrey Pines and Pebble Beach have multiple courses on property — a key consideration in getting a full field around for the first two rounds with limited daylight (Pinehurst in North Carolina has also been mooted, though that is considered unlikely.). “Certainly if we had to postpone and if we moved to a slot in the late fall, we would potentially need two courses if the size of the field remains the same,” Annis conceded. “The traditional timing of the U.S. Open allows us to work with maximum daylight hours. Any move away from that would provide daylight challenges for us that we would need to address and playing on two courses could be a way to resolve that challenge.”
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The Masters, which was due to begin next week at Augusta National Golf Club, is tentatively penciled in for the week of Nov. 9, according to two people with knowledge of the current planning who spoke on condition of anonymity because they’re not authorized to speak publicly. And what was for so many years the last major of the season is now aiming to be the first: the PGA Championship will be scheduled for Aug. 6-9 at Harding Park in San Francisco.
“Glory’s First Shot” will be followed by the PGA Tour’s Wyndham Championship and then three FedEx Cup playoff events, culminating with the Tour Championship at East Lake in Atlanta on Labor Day weekend. Early talks included possibly restaging the Players Championship, which was abandoned after just one round last month, but the Tour’s flagship event will not now be part of the new lineup. As things stand, only the Ryder Cup will be played on its original dates.
It’s unclear whether the Tour would seek to begin its 2020-21 wraparound season as usual after the Tour Championship. An announcement on a new LPGA Tour schedule could come as early as this week, while the impact of the revised calendar on the European Tour remains uncertain.
While any refreshed schedule would obviously be subject to change — and complete cancellation, given the rapidly expanding coronavirus crisis — the timeframe targeted to resume the PGA Tour season is mid-June. That could potentially allow the Tour to use the four weeks vacated by the Olympics and the U.S. and British Opens to stage tournaments that were previously postponed. Events currently rostered for that summer period — like the RBC Canadian Open in Toronto, the Travelers Championship in Hartford, Conn., and the WGC-St. Jude Invitational in Memphis, Tenn. — could be impacted, either to facilitate the playing of other stops or because of local conditions.
Another uncertain element is television, with networks faced with finding slots to broadcast golf at a time when they have commitments to other sports (assuming some normalcy has returned to the sporting calendar by then). NBC, CBS, Fox and ESPN all have obligations with the NFL, college football, Premier League soccer and NASCAR, among others. That could mean, for example, that more U.S. Open coverage is aired on Fox Sports 1 rather than Fox’s main network. Fox is contractually obliged to air the championship on its main channel only when it is played in its traditional June date.
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