The Masters on Halloween? Golf Weighs Tradition Against the Calendar

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If golf’s biggest events are to be salvaged this year, the game’s leaders must find an uncommon wellspring of creativity and flexibility. The first two men’s Grand Slam events of the year, the Masters and the P.G.A. Championship, have already been postponed indefinitely, and the schedules for the two others, the United States and British Opens, are teetering as the coronavirus increasingly alters lives around the globe.

Assuming that health officials give the game’s chief governing bodies approval to start rescheduling this year, it is highly unlikely that 2020 will pass without a single men’s major golf championship: The indomitable Augusta National Golf Club, if given the go-ahead, would probably go so far as to host the final round of the Masters with flashlights on New Year’s Eve.

But even in best-case scenarios, the time-honored rhythms of the golf calendar are poised for a strident jolt.

The Masters will not be a springtime ritual this year; instead the club’s leadership has discussed holding the tournament closer to Thanksgiving. The United States Open, which is certain to be delayed soon, may not end on Father’s Day, as always, but could become part of Labor Day weekend — joining that other early September tradition, the Kentucky Derby.

All things considered, disruptions on that scale would be remarkably good news since it would mean there had been progress in stemming the pandemic. But to even prepare for such situations, the negotiating of golf’s jumbled schedule must take place among the chief governing bodies in the sport, which have competing self interests.

Five separate leadership entities in golf must collaborate toward a new men’s championship schedule. The parties at the table are Augusta National; the United States Golf Association, which conducts the United States Open; the P.G.A. of America, which sponsors the P.G.A. Championship; the R&A, host of the British Open; and the PGA Tour, which last month suspended its nearly year-round agenda of tournaments.

Golf’s minders remain hopeful that health officials will at some point give their assent to holding the majors. All kinds of contingency plans are on the table — from condensing the size of the fields so that play can be completed in the shrinking light of fall, to finishing a tournament on a Saturday so that the last round does not compete with a full slate of Sunday N.F.L. games.

Each organization comes into the negotiation with its own constraints and ambitions. The British Open, scheduled for Royal St. George’s Golf Club in mid-July, cannot be delayed too long without a radical reconsideration because there will be less than 12 hours of daylight in southeastern England by Oct. 1. The R&A would have to consult its broadcast partner, NBC, about any changes to the event.

The United States Open, which is set to air on Fox Sports, would rather not ditch its plans to play this year’s event at the Winged Foot Golf Club in Westchester County, N.Y. A new date in early September is being weighed. But can there be a more challenging place right now to try to schedule a huge event than just outside New York City?

The P.G.A. Championship would also like to keep its original location, T.P.C. Harding Park in San Francisco, where weather tends to be favorable even late in the year. But the P.G.A. also said it hoped to play its championship “this summer,” and in this trying year there will be a certain status associated with being the inaugural golf major contested — a privilege usually reserved for the Masters. CBS owns the rights to air both.

Often viewed as the least prestigious major, the P.G.A. Championship might have an early August window now that the Tokyo Olympics have also been postponed. If workable, and approved by health and governmental agencies, would that be too good to pass up?

Augusta National normally closes from mid-May to October because of the scorching temperatures in a typical Georgia summer. The club prides itself on the play of its firm and fast fairways and greens, conditions that might be more attainable in November than in October.

Augusta National also has the deepest pockets. It can make autonomous decisions the other groups would struggle to make, like hosting the tournament without spectators if that would potentially make it safer. When corporate sponsors of the 2003 Masters television broadcast were being pressured because of a roiling controversy over Augusta National’s then all-male membership, the club summarily announced it would broadcast the tournament without commercials even though it meant forgoing millions of dollars in revenue.

Hosting championships without spectators or, perhaps more pertinent, without acres of on-site corporate hospitality tents would be a tougher decision for golf’s other governing bodies, which are not accustomed to taking eight-figure losses at the end of a national tournament. Those economic realities could lead to cancellations rather than postponements.

The PGA Tour, of course, wants to resume its schedule of events leading to the season-ending FedEx Cup playoffs, currently scheduled for Aug. 13 to 30. Also, keep in mind that the Ryder Cup, an international team event, is set for late September in Wisconsin. After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Ryder Cup was postponed for a year. Something similar might be in the offing.

And the L.P.G.A. Tour has postponed two of its five major championships, the ANA Inspiration in Southern California, which was moved from April to mid-September, and the Evian Championship in France, which was rescheduled last week from late July to early August.

It’s a lot to sort out, especially amid a health crisis.

But let’s say there is the best possible news on the battle to contain the coronavirus pandemic and the playing of major championship golf, at least in some regions, is approved by health experts by August. A prospective 2020 men’s major schedule could look like this:

  • The P.G.A. Championship in San Francisco, beginning Aug. 6.

  • The United States Open from Sept. 3 to 6, although it may have to be moved from the New York metropolitan area. Among the alternative sites: Oakmont Country Club outside Pittsburgh and the Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina.

  • With the Ryder Cup postponed for a year, the British Open at Royal St. George’s is held from Sept. 24 to 27.

  • The Masters moves to the last week of October with its final round on Nov. 1. Everybody enjoys a new tradition unlike any other: a Halloween Saturday at the Masters.