Smart call as Augusta keeps phones off the course

Picture: Sam Greenwood

Masters week is a time for the stars of golf to shine. But for some, the real fun begins after dark. 

There are parties hosted by the likes of NetJets, Under Armour, and others for clients - some featuring musical acts - and are almost as tough to get into as the entrance to Magnolia Lane.

Other affairs are more intimate. Gary Player hosts a small dinner party every night at his rental home at Champions Retreat, featuring a traditional South African braai, or barbecue, on Wednesday.

It’s also high times for pros on the speaking circuit. 

I heard Thomas Bjorn wax poetic on Europe’s Ryder Cup triumph and Paul Casey discuss his excitement of having his four-year-old son, Lex, on the bag for the Par-3 contest on Wednesday. 

But it was another comment Casey made about The Masters that really struck me.

“Because of the rules, especially no phones, it’s the one week of the year that I walk on to the tee and you feel special,” he said.

Mobile phones have become the one device we seemingly can’t live without. But at Augusta National electronic devices are strictly prohibited. 

Casey compared it to going to see the band The News recently and being baffled by how the majority of the concertgoers watched the concert through a second device as they took photos and video to post to various social media sites. 

Welcome to the Instagram age.

“I don’t get it,” Casey said.

“I don’t care if people shout, scream, yell but appreciate what we’re trying to do whether it is good or bad.”

Casey makes a good point. At every other golf tournament, you’ll see a sea of smartphones capturing the moment, turning every spectator into a cameraman and videographer.

It’s become one of the biggest adjustments for Tiger Woods on this latest comeback bid. 

I’ve seen him hit a crooked drive, allowing fans to be five feet away from arguably the greatest of all-time - basically fans had the equivalent of floor seats to see Michael Jordan - and instead of watching a magician at work in excavating himself from trouble, they are consumed with taking a selfie. 

FOMO, also known as fear of missing out, is taking the golf world by storm now that fans are allowed to bring phones on the course. 

It’s no longer good enough to say you were there when Woods chipped in or holed a long birdie putt; you need to be able to post it to social media.

Casey isn’t the only player who finds the Masters no-phone policy refreshing.

“Wonderful isn’t?” Rory McIlroy said when the subject was raised.

“I was playing a practice round , I said to Harry (Diamond) out there, ‘How good is it that people aren’t looking at their phones?’ “ McIlroy said. 

“I think people can learn from that. There’s actually a book I’m reading at the minute called Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport and that goes into all about those devices; there are obviously so many wonderful things about them, but only if used in the right way. 

"I think it’s cool to see that and see that Augusta has upheld that tradition. I think it’s a great thing.”

But maybe not so great for the patrons. It’s a policy that feels antiquated and impractical and leaves many feeling unnecessarily disconnected. 

Try making plans to meet someone. You have to be very specific in picking a time and location because once you leave your phone in your car, you’re out of touch. 

One time, I missed connecting with my brother-in-law because we were standing by different practice greens, and last year, I waited in the rain to meet some friends near the giant scoreboard at the entrance along the first hole, but they got stuck in traffic. 

A simple text would’ve solved these issues.

Irony of ironies is that phone network AT&T is one of the tournament’s select few sponsors and yet its customers can’t bring its product inside the gates. (While phones are a no-no, AT&T does provide banks of free phones and allow patrons to call anywhere in the world.)

“I think, for me, it’s a place that you feel like you can get away,” said 2018 champion Patrick Reed.

Nowadays, everything’s so much in the fast lane. Everything is so much in electronics, and to be able to come out and get back to what golf is, it’s the fans coming out and experiencing such a perfect golf course, being able to actually watch golf.

But Augusta National is a place where everyone is requested to display traditional customs of etiquette, decorum, and behavior, and to obey all tournament policies. 

Disobey and your ticket will be revoked in perpetuity. 

There’s a reason you don’t hear patrons screaming, “Mash potatoes!” 

But don’t hold your breath waiting for the policy to be amended, confirmed Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley.

I can’t speak for future chairmen, but speaking for myself, I think we got that right.”

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