US PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said Thursday that spectators would be banned from all tour events through next month's Texas Open, the final tuneup event for the Masters, due to coronavirus concerns.
Monahan said he spoke with US President Donald Trump regarding the tour's future plans as well as Florida state officials, with the Players and next week's Valspar Championship set for Sunshine State layouts.
A PGA event planned for the Dominican Republic in two weeks opposite the WGC Match Play event in Austin, Texas, was postponed with Monahan said the tour would plan to reschedule the Caribbean stop.
"The health and safety of our players, employees, partners, volunteers, fans and everybody associated with the PGA Tour is our top priority," Monahan said.
The spectator ban will cover the remainder of the Players, next week's Valspar event, the WGC Match-Play in Austin and the Texas Open in San Antonio, which finishes on 5 April, the eve of the first practice round at Augusta National for the Masters - 2020's first major championship.
"It's going to be very different. I think it will be an eerie situation to be out here with no one else out here," said South African-born Slovakian Rory Sabbatini, among the early finishers in Thursday's first round. "It's going to be awkward."
Golfers teed off with fans in the gallery for Thursday's opening round of The Players Championship at the famed TPC Sawgrass layout in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, with autograph seekers banned to keep players and spectators at a safe distance.
"We are tracking and monitoring the health information provided by the Centers for Disease Control and World Health Organization in addition to the travel advisories provided by the US State Department," Monahan said.
"Both the White House and the Governor's office have been and are supportive of the precautionary measures we have taken to this point."
Defending champion and world number one Rory McIlroy, trying to become the first back-to-back winner in the event's history, was among those scheduled for an afternoon start.
The event began hours after the NBA decided to shut down its season in the wake of a player testing positive for Covid-19.
"At this point in time, PGA Tour events - across all tours - will currently proceed as scheduled, but will do so without fans," Monahan said. "This policy starts at The Players Championship (Friday) and continues through the Valero Texas Open.
"We will continue THE PLAYERS with essential personnel only, and we will be in direct conversations with those groups (vendors, broadcasters, media, player support groups, essential volunteers) to provide instructions.
"It's important to note, that could change, but for the time being, this decision allows the PGA Tour, our fans and constituents to plan, prepare and respond as events develop."
Sabbatini was sorry for fans who had been looking forward to seeing golf's greatest shotmakers but understood the decision had to be made for safety's sake.
"I feel pain for the spectators," he said. "I know no actions are taken lightly. A lot of contemplation went into this. It's unfortunate. I hope we can get this under control and get everybody back out there.
"It just makes you realize how interconnected the entire planet is these days. It makes you realize in the global picture how really small we are."