USA TODAY US Edition

2021 Masters gates will spring open for lim­ited crowd

- Chris­tine Bren­nan Golf · Sports

At the spec­ta­tor-less Novem­ber Masters, there was the hope that the 2021 tour­na­ment would be able to be played as close to nor­mal as pos­si­ble, with throngs of golf fans re­turn­ing to the game’s Amer­i­can mecca.

Those dreams were dashed Tues­day morn­ing when Fred Ri­d­ley, chair­man of Au­gusta Na­tional Golf Club, an­nounced that the club “in­tends to limit at­ten­dance” at the April event, em­ploy­ing the bub­ble-like health and safety stan­dards that were used two months ago for the de­layed 2020 tour­na­ment.

“With th­ese pro­to­cols in place, ef­forts are be­ing made to in­clude a lim­ited num­ber of pa­trons, pro­vided it can be done safely,” Ri­d­ley said.

When a sport that is played out­side, with built-in so­cial dis­tanc­ing, can­not bring back the mul­ti­tudes, the mes­sage is clear: COVID-19 rages on. The threat is real. It is real for ev­ery­one, es­pe­cially mid­dle-aged and older golf fans, most of them male. No re­spon­si­ble sports or­ga­ni­za­tion can think or say other­wise.

“As with the Novem­ber Masters, we will im­ple­ment prac­tices and poli­cies that will pro­tect the health and safety of ev­ery­one in at­ten­dance,” Ri­d­ley said. “Noth­ing is, or will be, more im­por­tant than the well-be­ing of all in­volved.”

As dev­as­tat­ing as this news is for the lo­cal econ­omy, Au­gusta Na­tional’s de­ci­sion is both a wake-up call and an ex­hi­bi­tion of se­ri­ous and re­spon­si­ble lead­er­ship. Even though there are acres and acres of land at the club, and plenty of room to roam, the Masters has pru­dent

ly de­cided it just can­not yet safely bring back many of its fans while the world is still in the throes of this ter­ri­ble pan­demic.

It will, how­ever, hold two other sig­na­ture events prior to the first men’s ma­jor golf cham­pi­onship of the year: the Au­gusta Na­tional Women’s Am­a­teur and the Drive, Chip and Putt na­tional fi­nals. A “small num­ber” of spec­ta­tors will be al­lowed at both, Ri­d­ley said. Both of those events were not held in 2020.

All of this means that the 2021 Masters will look quite sim­i­lar to the 2020 Masters, ex­cept that it will be played in the spring­time, with the club’s fa­mous aza­leas in bloom.

In Novem­ber, ev­ery per­son who went through the gates at the 2020 Masters – play­ers, cad­dies, club em­ploy­ees, Au­gusta Na­tional mem­bers, the news me­dia – first had to test neg­a­tive for COVID-19 on site be­fore be­ing al­lowed in.

Once in­side, ev­ery­one was re­quired to wear masks in build­ings as well as on the course, golfers and cad­dies ex­cepted. In the op­u­lent press build­ing, meals were carry-out only, while the rel­a­tively small num­ber of jour­nal­ists were so­cially dis­tanced in the ex­pan­sive work room.

We now know that it will be 2022 at least be­fore the Masters looks like its old self again. With few fans and no roars erupt­ing around the course this com­ing April, it will be a tra­di­tion un­like any other, now two tour­na­ments in a row.

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 ?? ROB SCHU­MACHER/USA TO­DAY SPORTS ?? The Mas­ter in Novem­ber had lim­ited at­ten­dance, as will the 2021 ver­sion.
ROB SCHU­MACHER/USA TO­DAY SPORTS The Mas­ter in Novem­ber had lim­ited at­ten­dance, as will the 2021 ver­sion.

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