Augusta National Golf Club is home to more than 30 varieties of azalea plants. Those azaleas, thousands of them at each hole, are a staple of the Masters and part of the charm of the tournament held in early April, the peak of azalea blooming season.
Weather can play a part in golf’s most iconic tournament being held without the backdrop of different shades of pink and purple and white flowers in full bloom. But that is rare.
Never has the calendar dictated whether or not the Masters was held during the height of Augusta National’s beauty.
But never have we had a year, a month, a week like this in sports.
Canceling tournaments in Palm Harbor, Fla., or Austin, Texas, or San Antonio is one thing. Wiping out the final three rounds of The Players is a blow.
But that pales to the announcement that came down Friday morning that the Masters, golf crowning jewel, was being postponed because of concerns over the coronavirus pandemic.
The Masters has been held every year since 1934, with the exceptions of 1943-45, when the event was canceled due to World War II. It has been in April every time except 1934 and 1939 when it was played in March.
“Postponed is a comforting word,” Xander Schauffele said Friday from The Players, where golfers packed their bags and headed out after learning the final three rounds were canceled.
“Canceled is another. As long as it says postponed, I think the players will find hope in that word and just wait for go time.”
Fred Ridley, the chair of Augusta National, said he hopes the Masters can be held at a later date. Most are counting on golf not losing one of its four major tournaments and speculation has started as when the Masters now best fits on the calendar.
One powerful voice, though, believes 2020 forever will be vacant when listing Masters champions. Jack Nicklaus, in an interview with ESPN Friday, said he does not believe the Masters with be rescheduled.
“In all practicality, they’re postponing but I can’t see any way they’d play it at a later date,” Nicklaus said. “How in the world could they work it into the schedule? It wouldn’t be fair to any other tournament that’s later. I think we’re going to miss the Masters this year. That’s just my opinion, but I think that makes logical sense.”
Rescheduling the Masters will take a lot of thought and flexibility and, if played in late summer or the fall, patience and understanding from the golfers. The PGA calendar is crowded and this year it includes the Ryder Cup, scheduled for Sept. 25-27 at Whistling Straights in Wisconsin.
The Tour is booked with at least one event every week through the end of the Tour Championship, which is Aug. 27-30 in Atlanta. Still, holding a tournament in Augusta during the summer would be difficult because of the heat. Augusta National typically closes in May and reopens in October.
The Tour could decide to adjust its fall schedule – the season now officially starts in mid-September, two weeks following the Tour Championship. Most players use that time as their offseason, but this year those playing in the Ryder Cup will want to stay sharp.
The Tour has two options with advantages and drawbacks to all:
The earliest dates possible would be Labor Day weekend, or the week after the Tour Championship. That allows the 2019-20 season to end seamlessly but also would mean golfers having to go right from the three FedEx Cup playoff events in Massachusetts, Illinois and Atlanta to the Masters. But with the Tour Championship in Atlanta, the Masters would be just a two-hour drive away.
Two more advantages, and neither insignificant, would be international players would have to extend their stay just by one week instead of going home and returning to the U.S. sometime in October to play the Masters. And, perhaps the best argument for having the Masters in early September ... the NFL season, at least in recent years, has started the week after Labor Day, meaning CBS, which televises the Masters and is an NFL TV partner, carrying games in two time slots on Sundays, would not have a Sunday conflict.
CBS might have to make one sacrifice that weekend. Alabama plays USC in Arlington, Texas, on Sept. 5 and the broadcast rights have been assigned to the SEC, which means the game will be televised by CBS or ESPN. CBS still could air the game if it’s scheduled for night.
Playing in early September would force Augusta National to get the course ready much earlier than a typical year. As for the heat, hey, they already play in Atlanta the week prior.
“That’s my favorite tournament of the year, so I obviously have hopes that we’ll get to play it, and whenever we do, we do,” Justin Thomas said. “I don’t care if it’s 25 degrees and nobody is there, I’m going to go play it with a chance to win the Masters.”
Or 95 degrees. The average high for Augusta in early September is 88 degrees as opposed to 74 degrees in mid-April.
Sticking a tournament, let alone a major, from the previous season into the schedule after the next season has begun would be awkward. If Augusta National and the PGA decided it’s best to play the Masters in October, it would have to be before the Tour heads overseas. The 2019-20 October schedule had them playing in Las Vegas and Houston the first two weeks before heading to Korea.
The weather would be the obvious advantage. Forcing CBS to chose between the Masters and the NFL on Sunday and giving up an SEC game on Saturday could be problematic.
“The world is not coming to an end, but it’s a little reality check,” Kevin Na said. “Golf is not that big of a deal when you look around at what’s going on in the world. I know the Masters is being postponed. I think they’re doing the right thing and I look forward to hopefully playing the Masters later this year.”