This year's Masters tournament, the season's first major golf championship, has been postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak, Augusta National Golf Club chairman Fred Ridley announced Friday.
"Considering the latest information and expert analysis, we have decided at this time to postpone the Masters tournament," Ridley said in a statement.
The outbreak, which has prompted a virtual shutdown of American sport, also forced Ridley to postpone the Augusta National Women's Amateur and youth Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals.
"Ultimately, the health and well-being of everyone associated with these events and the citizens of the Augusta community led us to this decision," Ridley said.
"We hope this postponement puts us in the best position to safely host the Masters tournament and our amateur events at some later date."
Augusta National typically closes soon after hosting the world's top players, reopening later each year, so the possibility remains that it could be rescheduled later in the year, potentially in the autumn after the 2019-20 US PGA season is complete given the schedule already booked through August.
The US PGA Tour has canceled this week's Players Championship and every other tune-up event for the original Masters date, leaving its next event currently on the calendar as the Heritage tournament, set to start on April 16.
The next major championship on the schedule is now the PGA Championship on May 14-17 at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco, an area having been especially hard hit by coronavirus cases already.
"Unfortunately, the ever-increasing risks associated with the widespread coronavirus COVID-19 have led us to a decision that undoubtedly will be disappointing to many, although I am confident is appropriate under these unique circumstances," Ridley said.
"We will continue to work with the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Office of the Governor, the Georgia Department of Public Health, the City of Augusta and all other local authorities."
Ridley asked for patience from Masters patrons.
"We will share any additional information as soon as it becomes available," he said. "As COVID-19 continues to impact the lives of people everywhere, we seek your understanding of this decision and know you share our concern given these trying times."
The Masters has been played every year since 1945, when the British Open was the only men's golf major contested.
The event, which began in 1934, was halted from 1943-1945 due to World War II.
'A wise decision'
Jack Nicklaus, whose record 18 major titles include six Masters green jackets, backed Ridley's decision.
"I don't think anybody wants to go to Augusta and get sick," Nicklaus said. "People come to the Masters from all over the world and the chances of somebody bringing something there are great.
"I think they made a wise decision and I support it."
Nicklaus, 80, serves as an honorary Masters starter each year. He said it would have been "strange" to stage the event without spectators.
He also doubted the Masters would be played this year even at a later date.
"I can't see any way they would play it at a later date. It wouldn't be fair to any other tournament," Nicklaus said. "I think we're going to miss the Masters this year."
Nicklaus continues with plans to host his US PGA Memorial tournament two weeks before June's US Open but understands much remains uncertain.
"Who knows what it's going to be a month or six weeks from now? I'm hoping this thing dies down as the warm weather comes on and we can resume," Nicklaus said.
"We don't know. For us to be smart, I think we need to take a step back. We don't need to panic. We need to do the things we're supposed to do and not spread it."