US Outlaw Tour gives golfers events despite coronavirus

Los Angeles (AFP) –


There are desert rain downpours and tee box confusion with top prizes of only $4,500 (4,167 euros), but golf's Outlaw Tour is playing through in Arizona despite the coronavirus pandemic.

The four-year-old men's developmental circuit typically attracts players in their 20s for 54-hole mid-week events with entry fees of $775-$875 and is set to play four final season events in April.

With almost every other sports league in the United States and worldwide shut down amid safety precautions for the deadly COVID-19 virus, the Outlaw Tour keeps going thanks to golf courses being declared an "essential business" in the state.

After two events since the PGA Tour halted play, the Outlaw Tour will stage the Orange Tree Classic at Scottsdale, Arizona, starting Tuesday with an 80-player field over a 6,739-yard layout.

The lineup features Germany's 49-year-old Alex Cejka, who won the 2015 PGA Puerto Rico Open and four European Tour titles from 1995-2002. His best finish in 23 major starts was fourth at the 2003 PGA Championship.

Thomas Lehman and amateur Sean Lehman, sons of 1996 British Open champion and former world number one Tom Lehman, are also in the field.

"I think it's a really safe thing to do," 61-year-old Lehman told the PGA Tour website. "Golf kind of has a built-in, social-distancing concept. You don't get inside the other player's space. You can play a round of golf with people and you don't get up close and personal."

Flagsticks stay in holes and no rakes are provided for bunkers. There are no handshakes or water coolers and players walking the course keep their distance from others to maintain social distancing guidelines.

- Du Toit 59, DQ 14 -

At last week's Verrado Founders Championship, Scotland's Calum Hill, a 136th-ranked European Tour newcomer, closed with a 4-under par 68 to finish on 15-under 201 for a one-stroke victory over American Chris Korte.

But the big shocker came when 14 players were disqualified for playing off the wrong tee after a tee-box mix-up on a par-3 hole in the first round.

The tee was set up at 204 yards while scorecards showed the hole at 222 yards. The first group to reach the hole played off the wrong tee and others followed before the mistake was caught.

"One-hundred percent the tour did the right thing by DQ'ing everyone. Some money back would (be) nice considering how many people made the same mistake and the current world situation," tweeted James Feutz, one of the disqualified players.

"Among the 14 guys DQ'd with thousands of tournaments played... not one guy had ever (been) playing a wrong tee. In my opinion some of that has to fall on the way the course was set up and how the tournament was ran."

Three weeks ago at the Western Skies Classic in Gilbert, a heavy rain softened the course for Thursday's final round, when Canadian Jared du Toit fired a bogey-free 59, making an eagle and nine birdies in the lowest round in Outlaw Tour history.

"I didn't think about it too much until late," du Toit said. "I had a good look on 17. I was mad at the time, it didn't go in, because I would have loved to have been able to par 18.

"I got away with my tee shot. It finished close to the cart path. Had 105 yards in and hit a wedge to 6-7 feet and made it."

Canadian Wil Bateman won a playoff over du Toit and American Carson Roberts with a birdie on the first extra hole for the victory.

"I just feel like it's just an opportunity," Bateman told the PGA. "Seems to me that when I'm out there, with all of this stuff going on, it's a place to just stay calm."