• The Star Staff

Masters will play without Augusta’s famed roars

By Brendan Porath

The Augusta National Golf Club announced earlier this week that the 2020 Masters Tournament, postponed from its traditional April date to Nov. 12-15, will be held without patrons or guests in attendance. The decision was a response to the coronavirus pandemic and came after many other fixtures of the men’s professional golf schedule, including last week’s PGA Championship, the first major championship of this unconventional year, previously were conducted without spectators.

The Masters’ decision — the last of the major men’s tournaments to say it would proceed without fans — could signal that the remaining tournaments this season will follow suit. The U.S. Golf Association announced two weeks ago that the U.S. Open, which will be held at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y., from Sept. 17 to 20, would not have fans in attendance. And the British Open was canceled earlier this year.

The PGA Tour said its events will not host fans through the end of this current season, which concludes Sept. 7. The first two events of the next PGA Tour season, the Safeway Open and Sanderson Farms Championship, have also already announced that they will not have fans on-site during their September and October dates.

“Throughout this process, we have consulted with health officials and a variety of subject matter experts,” said Fred Ridley, chair of Augusta National. “Ultimately, we determined that the potential risks of welcoming patrons and guests to our grounds in November are simply too significant to overcome.”

Patrons is the preferred term of a club beholden to many traditions that distinguish it from other men’s golf tournaments. Clifford Roberts, a co-founder of the club and its chair from 1931 to 1976, prioritized the so-called patron experience from the moment the Masters Tournament was first held in 1934. Many of those initial concerns for spectators, like the minute attention to sight lines, affordable concessions prices and on-course scoreboards, still persist at the Masters.

“Even in the current circumstances, staging the Masters without patrons is deeply disappointing,” Ridley added. “The guests who come to Augusta each spring from around the world are a key component to making the tournament so special. Augusta National has the responsibility, however, to understand and accept the challenges associated with this virus and take the necessary precautions to conduct all aspects of the tournament in a safe manner.”

Few other golf tournaments have a widely known phrase to describe the fan presence, but the “Augusta roars” — the resounding crowd response that echoes around the course — have become synonymous with the Masters perhaps as much as the blooming azaleas. Peter Kostis, who broadcast the tournament with CBS for decades, pondered whether the club would break with tradition and change the course’s setup, which is usually laid out in such a way as to provoke those crowd reactions.

Speaking at this week’s Wyndham Championship, golfer Brandt Snedeker, who has three top-10 results in 11 Masters starts, described how spectators define the tournament’s famed atmosphere.

“Part of the allure and majesty of Augusta National is the patrons. You have that electricity from the first moment on Thursday morning to [when] the last putt goes in on Sunday night on every hole,” he said. “It’s not just on the back nine; it’s on every hole.”

Augusta National also canceled this year’s Augusta National Women’s Amateur and the Drive, Chip, and Putt Championship, two events conducted around Masters week each year.

The club clarified that tickets for the 2020 tournament would be honored for 2021’s event, scheduled for next April. The ticketing process for the 2021 tournament had also already commenced, and the club said it would be communicating directly with ticket holders and applicants for next year’s tournament.

The club did not announce who, specifically, would fall outside the definition of “patrons and guests” and be permitted on the grounds during tournament week. The player field for the 2020 Masters was already finalized and closed the week before the original April date.

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