A limited number of fans will be allowed into the Augusta National Golf Club to watch The Masters this year, it has been announced.
The opening men’s golf major of the year is scheduled to run from April 5 to 11 - less than five months after world number one Dustin Johnson claimed the green jacket for the first time.
Last year’s tournament in Georgia was moved from April to November because of the COVID-19 pandemic before being staged without crowds as part of measures designed to limit the risk posed by the virus.
Organisers had hoped to be back to full capacity for this year’s event but with coronavirus cases still rising in the United States, they are now planning on inviting a smaller number of spectators - "provided it can be done safely".
"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," said Augusta National Golf Club chairman Fred Ridley.
"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.
"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."
Organisers said the tournament would be staged with similar coronavirus countermeasures to those imposed at last year’s event.
All 2020 ticket holders had been told to keep their tickets for the 2021 edition but they are now expected to go through a lottery system to secure a place at this year's tournament.
The statement added: "Augusta National is in the process of communicating with all ticket holders of record, and refunds will be issued to those patrons not selected to attend."
Ridley said the club also intended to stage the Augusta National Women’s Amateur and the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals as planned in April.
Both competitions are set to be held in front of a small number of spectators.
The United States has been severely hit by the pandemic, recording more deaths from coronavirus than any other country in the world.
So far, more than 23 million cases and about 385,000 fatalities from COVID-19 have been recorded in the US.