AUGUSTA (REUTERS, AFP) - The 2021 Masters Tournament will be held with a limited number of spectators in the gallery.
Fred Ridley, chairman of Augusta National Golf Club, on Tuesday (Jan 12) said that the delayed 2020 Masters, held in November, provided a blueprint to safely conduct the 2021 edition amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
The next Masters is scheduled for April 8-11.
"Following the successful conduct of the Masters Tournament last November with only essential personnel, we are confident in our ability to responsibly invite a limited number of patrons to Augusta National in April," he said.
It also was announced that the Augusta National Women's Amateur and the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals will return in April with limited fans in attendance.
"As with the November Masters, we will implement practices and policies that will protect the health and safety of everyone in attendance. Nothing is, or will be, more important than the well-being of all involved," Ridley said.
"While we are disappointed that we will be unable to accommodate a full complement of patrons this year, we will continue our efforts to ensure that all who purchased tickets from Augusta National will have access in 2022, provided conditions improve."
His statement did not mention how many ticket holders will be allowed to enter but players welcomed the news.
History-making Masters runner-up Cameron Smith of Australia and 2020 PGA Championship winner Collin Morikawa were both delighted by the announcement.
"We miss the fans out here every week," Smith said. "I feel as though the atmosphere around there was obviously down this year.
"It's such a unique place in that you can hear everything that's going on throughout whole course. I think if we get a few out there, it will definitely make a difference."
Morikawa, a 23-year-old American, captured his first Major title last August at Harding Park in San Francisco and hoped the Masters' plans might signal a gradual return for fans across all PGA Tour events.
"It's obviously encouraging," he said. "I think all these tournaments are going to start bringing fans back, whether it's limited capacity or a certain amount per day.
"We're always going to follow the right rules. The PGA Tour has built a system, and I'm sure the Masters have built a system right now with everyone else to make sure this doesn't get out of hand.
"We still need to watch ourselves on what we do and where we're going to be going, but for the most part, slowly to start seeing fans, it's going to be really exciting."
Smith shared second place last November at the virus-postponed Masters with South Korea's Im Sung-jae, five strokes behind US winner Dustin Johnson.
The 27-year-old from Brisbane became the first player in Masters history with four rounds in the 60s, going 67-68-69-69 over the legendary par-72 layout.
The Masters is the latest golf tournament in the United States to welcome the return of some fans. On Monday, the March 18-21 Honda Classic said it would allow a limited number of spectators, joining next month's Phoenix Open and The Players Championship in March. Both the Honda Classic and The Players Championship are to be held in Florida.
However, the Feb 18-21 Genesis Invitational in Los Angeles, which is operated by the charity foundation of 15-time Major winner Tiger Woods, will be played behind closed doors because of the pandemic, officials said on Tuesday.