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PGA Tour to Test Cell Phone During Tournaments

August 3, 2010

Wyndham ChampionshipA recent article in the Triad Business Journal called my attention to the PGA’s upcoming field test at the Wyndham Championship, allowing cell phone use by spectators during tournament play. (Click here to read the full article) As the article highlights, this is a major step for the PGA Tour as up until now cell phone use has been strictly forbidden during tournament play. The question this begs; Is this a major step forward or backward for the PGA?

In my non-golfing life (which I admit has sadly grown in proportion to my golfing life, as evidenced by my lack of recent course reviews), I wax poetic on all things communications and media related as a consultant for various companies and media brands via my consulting firm Y BizDev. Given that I ‘m a promoter of new media, technology advances and leveraging new tools to engage your audience with greater efficiency and effectiveness, you’d think that I would be all for this move, right? Only I’m not so sure, and here’s why..

You see, I’m a traditionalist when it comes to golf. Maybe I’m a bit of a traditionalist in a lot of things really, but when it comes to golf it’s undeniable that I favor tradition over change. I love the fact that when I hit the course, the cell phone goes away (for the most part) and I can detach from the insanity of the world around me, even for a few hours. That stance puts me at odds with my business mindset that says ‘Yes! Let fans use their phones and take advantage of all the amazing opportunities to engage that audience base that come with their newly found access‘. But the real question is will it hurt the game? I mean, I wouldn’t want to be mid-putt on the 18th green come Sunday, only to hear a bombastic remix of Lady GaGa ring out across the crowd, would you? Heck, I already have a knot in my stomach for the players who will have to block that out, along with everything else they already have to deal with.

Professional golf is a business and there is a lot of money riding on every stroke these guys make. The assumption made by the Tournament Director and the PGA is that fans will be respectful and by allowing limited usage in “designated concessions areas” they will be able to access “work and family” while enjoying the tournament. OK, fair enough. But here’s a scenario for you…

Boo Weekley with fanJimmy Bob loves Boo Weekly. He relates to him. Jimmy B goes to the local Tour stop and spends 5 days following Boo around, 1 practice round and 4 hot tournament days. His man Boo shoots well enough to get into the final pairing on Sunday and low and behold, Jimmy Bob is sitting rope side on the 18th as the crowd draws silent for Boo’s tournament winning putt for birdie. The putter blade is drawn back to its apex… and then it happens… The ring-toned (if I may coin a phrase) opening riff from Honky Tonk Badonka Donk breaks through the silent like nails on a chalk board. The putt slides right and long, and Jimmy’s man finishes what feel’s like a distant second to some European who’s name Jimmy can’t even pronounce.

It’s not Jimmy’s fault. He was only using his phone in the designated concessions area. But between the brews in the beer garden and the pretty ladies walking around in tennis skirts, he must have just plain forgotten to shut the ringer off. Nice one big guy.

Of course, this is all hypothetical and surely there is as much a chance this scenario could occur under the current rules and regulations at tournaments. But does the PGA really want to tread that line?

On the up side, there is a great deal of money to be made by the Tour and it’s sponsors through this new medium. Text message campaigns, contests and more, are a great way to raise incremental revenues during the tightening sponsorship climate. A few bucks here and there could really help to keep the dollars rolling in for those lesser known stops along the season, which means bigger prize money, higher ranked players committing to play and a ultimately a better fan experience.

So what’s it going to be? Our classically elegant sport awash in a sea of technology we can never seem to break free of, or the adherence to a tradition of respect for our sport and of one another? Only time will tell, but we’ll be watching the Wyndham to see how that chapter plays out.Jimmy Bob plays golf

Hit ’em long & straight!

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