By Steve Keating
PONTE VEDRA, Fla. (Reuters) – The PGA Tour on Thursday banned spectators from attending tournaments until after April 5, starting with Friday’s second round of the Players Championship, because of concerns over the coronavirus outbreak.
The announcement was made by PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan at TPC Sawgrass, where fans were already in place midway through the opening round of what is widely regarded as golf’s unofficial fifth major.
Monahan said he spoke with U.S. President Donald Trump earlier on Thursday and that the White House are supportive of the precautionary measures the PGA Tour has taken.
“At this point in time, PGA tour events – across all tours – will currently proceed as scheduled, but will do so without fans,” said Monahan, adding that the policy could still change.
“This is a difficult situation, one with consequences that impact our players, fans and the communities in which we play.”
Earlier on Thursday the PGA Tour said that, given the information available, the Players Championship would continue as scheduled but added it was a “very fluid situation that requires constant review.”
At TPC Sawgrass, where the first group of golfers teed off at 7:40 a.m. ET (1240 GMT) signs were posted indicating that an autograph ban was in place.
The ban on spectators ends just ahead of the April 9-12 Masters at Augusta National where the year’s first major is expected to be contested.
Last week, Augusta National Chairman Fred Ridley said the Masters will proceed as scheduled and precautions will be established to ensure the safety of everyone following the coronavirus outbreak.
Augusta National did not immediately respond when asked by Reuters if they still expect to allow patrons at this year’s Masters.
In addition to the Players Championship, the spectator ban impacts the March 19-22 Valspar Championship in Palm Harbor, Florida, the March 25-29 World Golf Championships-Match Play event in Austin and April 2-5 Valero Texas Open in San Antonio.
Monahan also said the March 26-29 event in Punta Cana has been postponed because of recently announced travel advisories and potential logistical issues associated with players and staff traveling internationally.
(Reporting by Steve Keating; Writing by Frank Pingue; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Toby Davis)