Augusta National announced on Friday that it is postponing the Masters because of the coronavirus pandemic, likely meaning the tournament will be played outside of its traditional April time slot for the first time since before World War II. The announcement came a day after the PGA Tour announced the Players Championship and the three events that followed would be canceled.
Only twice has the Masters been played in March — the inaugural Augusta National Invitation Tournament in 1934 and again in 1939. It was not played from 1943 to 1945 due to the war.
Here are several questions concerning what would be an unprecedented move of what is traditionally the year’s first major championship:
What is the current status of the Masters?
Chairman Fred Ridley announced via a statement that health reasons led to the decision not to play the tournament when scheduled, April 9-12. For now, there is no hint, only guesses, as to when it might be played.
“We hope this postponement puts us in the best position to safely host the Masters Tournament and our amateur events at some later date,” Ridley said.
As part of the Masters, the Augusta National Women’s Amateur — which began last year — is a 54-hole tournament with 36 holes being played at a nearby course and then the final round played at Augusta National on the Saturday before the Masters. Sunday has been reserved for the Drive, Chip & Putt, which brings together finalists in various age groups from all over the country.
The Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday practice rounds have a ticket lottery that anecdotally brings more spectators to the course than the actual tournament rounds.
How does Augusta’s agronomy impact a new date?
Augusta National is considered a “winter club” and traditionally closes in late May and reopens in mid-October. That doesn’t mean the Masters could not be played at a time when the club is traditionally closed. Augusta National can do just about anything it pleases. But the summer months are not ideal due to the extreme heat in Georgia and less-than-ideal playing conditions.
Augusta’s primary turf is Bermuda, but the entire course is overseeded with perennial ryegrass in the fall before the club reopens, giving it a pristine look that is maintained through the Masters. Would that hold into May, for example, if the club chose to pick a month to six weeks after the original Masters date? And how would it look if, say, the tournament were played in September or October, with less time for the rye to take hold? It is possible this is part of the decision-making process going forward.
The greens are bentgrass, which is less tolerant of heat but regulated by a pipe system that Augusta has underneath its greens.
When could it be played?
play1:36The Masters postponed due to coronavirus pandemic
Stephen A. Smith and Bob Harig react to the Masters Tournament being postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The earliest possible spot on the schedule would likely be sometime in May, which means the tournament would possibly run into conflict with the PGA Championship, scheduled for May 14-17 at Harding Park in San Francisco. Even before the latest flurry of canceled sporting events, the San Francisco location was considered at risk and there has been talk of the PGA Championship moving.
A seemingly more likely time frame is September or October. That would require playing sometime after the FedEx Cup playoffs; the final event, the Tour Championship, is scheduled for Aug. 27-30. If the Masters came after that, it would mean the tournament would not — most likely — count as part of the 2019-20 season. Would it count twice in 2020-21? The tournament also would have to work around the Ryder Cup, which is scheduled for Sept. 25-27.
Another roadblock is working with the PGA Tour, as events are scheduled for nearly all of those dates, except for a small window in September. Does another scheduled event take a pass? Does Augusta National buy it off? It is an opposite event?
One thing is certain: If the tournament is postponed until late in the calendar year, the anticipation would be off the charts, even more so than we are accustomed to at this time of year.
What about qualifications?
The Masters has several invitation criteria, the biggest being those players who win PGA Tour events between the playing of the previous year’s Masters to the start of the next Masters. Resolving that is tricky, because if you win following this year’s scheduled April date, would you be eligible for the 2019 or 2020 version?
Also to be resolved is the top-50 cutoff for the Official World Ranking that typically comes two weeks prior to the Masters, which this year was supposed to be following the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play Championship. That tournament was set for March 25-29 in Austin, Texas, but has been canceled. Would the Masters pick a date that corresponds to the two-week cutoff prior to a new scheduled date?
What about spectators?
play1:32Collins: Masters postponement came from Augusta National
Michael Collins explains that the decision to postpone the Masters came from Augusta National and not the PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan.
Ridley said “we recognize this decision will affect many people, including our loyal patrons. Your patience as we make every effort to communicate effectively and efficiently is appreciated, and we will share any additional information as soon as it becomes available.”
Undoubtedly, this will be a monumental process, but Masters fans are known to go to great lengths to attend the tournament, and working out the logistics here — Augusta National Women’s Amateur, Drive, Chip & Putt, practice rounds, tournament rounds — and securing lodging will be a big part of the process.
That beats the alternative of having a Masters without spectators. Rory McIlroy said Thursday that had the Masters kept its original date, it would have had to go on without spectators. And given the health risks, that makes perfect sense.
That’s why postponing the Masters is a good idea. It would be strange to play the tournament without the cheering masses. Imagine Tiger Woods’ epic victory a year ago played in front of a small gathering of friends and officials.
The roars at Amen Corner, the cheering of close shots at the 16th hole, the adulation bestowed upon the winner … all of that will be well-received, no matter when the Masters is played.