Courses & TravelOctober 2, 2009

Cell Phones, Good Call

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The quote is appropriate here because, in a recent column written by my boss, Jerry Tarde, posted on this website earlier this week, Tarde offered his opinion on the relevance of his five sacred rules of private golf.

His column has inspired discussion, dissent, and debate, and the topic, one could argue, is a form of freedom. Tarde's fifth rule, no cell phones on the course or the clubhouse, is the one he says should be reconsidered or else the game runs the risk of losing the next generation of players.

When I read it, I remember thinking: Good for Jerry. I hope he has braced himself for some backlash. One of the game's great thinkers will get some heat.

And he has. On Geoff Shackelford's blog, which is on all things golf, there's a flood of dissenting opinions. Anything from, "It will always be a sport for rich, old white men until you lose all five." To, "Golf Digest is becoming less a publication about golf, and more a 'lifestyle' magazine, which I find distasteful." By last count there were 84 comments (most of Shackelford's posts get about 15) and some are actually worth reading.

Lawrence Donegan also teed off on Tarde in his blog:

On a grander philosophical level (a speciality of the Guardian golf blog, as regular readers will know), it would be better if golf clubs - and Golf Digest - focused their attention on those things that harm the game far more than any jeans-wearing, car park shoe-changing, hat-wearing reprobate ever could - extortionate joining fees (especially in the States), insidious bigotry (or every shape and form) and slow play.

Point made and heard Mr. Donegan, but I'd argue, over the course of a calendar year, we do those stories all the time. By the way, in the same November issue as Tarde's column is a 20-page section on golf and the environment, specifically tackling the weighty subjects of the sustainability of golf courses in a future of water conservation and chemical restrictions. But I have to admit, the sacred rules of blue jeans and cell phones are more fun to kick around. And more my speed.

Like most of you, the only time I play private golf is as a guest. Like Mr. Tarde, I learned the game at munys, worked as a cart kid, picked ranges by hand, mowed greens and raked my share of big bunkers. But Tarde's (a lot) further along in his career, has earned memberships at multiple kick-ass clubs and doesn't play, or have to play, a lot of public golf. He leaves that to other guys on his staff like me, Matt Rudy (Long Drives), Ron Kaspriske (19th Hole) or David Owen (countless features and columns on buddies golf); or he goes outside his stable and hires freelancers such as Steve Rushin (a recent homage to public golf in the August issue). He hires guys like us to monitor the masses.

Being 38, single, and a so-called "man of the people," I thought I'd weigh in.

First, Tarde's five sacred rules for private clubs:

*1. The most important: Never throw a club in anger.

2. Do not change your shoes in the parking lot. (Perfectly OK at a public course, but the locker room at private clubs is preserved as the last bastion of golfing ablutions.)

3. No blue jeans, even the expensive kind.

4. Take off your hat when you go indoors or when sitting down to eat.

5. No cell phones on the course or in the clubhouse. (One club I know is very tough on this: Mobile phones are only permissible sitting in your car in the parking lot with the windows rolled shut. A friend of mine adheres to this rule with his convertible top down.)

Let me take one at a time and I'll end with cell phones:

1. Club tossing. I know the minute it leaves my hand it's wrong and over the years of coming close to something that may resemble maturity, I'm better about not doing it. But I'm far from perfect and sometimes my temper gets the best of me. I'd say I'm more inclined to let one go at a public course than a private course because at the latter, I'm a guest, and I have manners.

2. Changing shoes in a parking lot as opposed to a locker room. I'm a parking lot guy, even at a private course when I can get away with it. I leave locker rooms to the members. Not only does it save time, it saves a little humiliation. I may use the restroom, but I don't need a temporary space in the corner of the room as though I'm a second-class citizen, even if it might be true. That's not tradition, that's just a reminder I can't afford a club I can call my own. Plus, I never appreciate the attendant looking at me like I'm lost and don't belong. I'll meet my host at the restaurant, the range or at the first tee, thank you.

3. No blue jeans. OK, I'll go along with this one. No blue jeans at a private club. Even at courses where jeans are allowed, that's not my thing. I find jeans to be too thick and I get the sense they restrict my swing. If it's hot, jeans are too hot, and if it rains, they're too heavy. I couldn't care less if you wear them and I'd probably look at it as a competitive advantage if I were playing you in a match.

4. Hats off indoors. I grew up with this rule and it had nothing to do with golf. It was a rule in my house. I've softened on it over the years and if I'm at a 19th hole and other people are wearing hats, I'll leave mine on and spare everyone my bad case of hat head. That's a personal choice and I think we all know when and where leaving a hat on is acceptable. I don't see why it's sacred rule. I'd leave it in the top 20, but it's not in my top 5.

5. And finally the cell phone. No one uses his cell phone on a golf course more than me. I have no problem turning it off at a two-hour movie, it doesn't work on a five-hour flight and I'm trying not to text when I drive, but having a no cell phone rule on a golf course makes no sense. First of all, if you're someone who's in a position to walk away from life for five hours -- let's say seven hours if you include pre- and post-game activities at the club -- you're no friend of mine. I'm not saying I speak into the phone, and it's always on silent or vibrate mode, but during downtime of a round, I send plenty of e-mails and text messages. It amazes me how efficient I can be in a text. I tend to go with: "I got it." Or "I'm on it." Or, "Let me check, I'll get back to you by the end of the day." The modern world is flat; most jobs, the ones I want, are no longer 9-to-5; and our offices, especially with my current gig, are everywhere -- including the 13th hole at Pacific Dunes, where recently, I couldn't help but stand on the edge of the earth, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and take a cell phone snapshot. Then forwarded the picture to all my closest friends, along with the message: "Suckers!" That, in particular, was a fantastic use of a cell phone on a golf course.

To be honest, we may not have to worry about any of these rules the way the game is going. I feel like private golf is dead. With the exception of places such as Augusta National, Pine Valley or Cypress Point, and a handful of others, it's a failed concept. What course can afford to turn anyone away? Not many. Look at all the great clubs and all the sacred and traditional courses across the pond. You and I can get on almost every one. We might pay a premium, we might have to write a letter to the course secretary begging for acceptance and we might have to play on Tuesday afternoon, but we walk the same fairways, and putt the same greens as the "members" do. Those overseas figured it out. So will we, eventually. And if American courses don't, they're going to go away.

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--Matty G.

*Photographs by Cy Cyr (cell phone) and Walter Iooss Jr. (Kauai).

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