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 prudently 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. Neither of those events were 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.