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Debate

Is it ever OK to answer a phone call on a golf course? Let's debate

January 23, 2023
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MARK RALSTON

Ever since humanity developed the technology to miniaturize the telephone—first to the size of shoe, then to the size of a credit card, and then back to the size of a shoe again—one debate has raged: When, if ever, is it OK to answer your phone on the golf course?

The question has stymied sociologists and puzzled philosophers. It has pitted friend against friend, playing partner against playing partner. The no-phoners deal in unrealistic absolutes, grounding their argument in ideals instead of reality. Team phone, meanwhile, slides farther and farther down the slippery slope. One day they're picking up because their wife is in labor, the next they’re on hold with the cable company trying to upgrade to HBO. So which is it? Phone or no phone? We posed that question to our brightest (and most combative) minds and came back with one definitive answer:

There is no definitive answer.

Alex Myers: Of course you can answer a personal call on the golf course. I hate to play the parent card here, but I'm playing the parent card here. Do you know what the odds of me not getting some panicked call from home during a four-hour round? Probably about the same chance of Phil Mickelson ever winning PGA Tour Player of the Year. And if I don't pick up that call, the odds of me ever playing golf again are even slimmer. So, yes, use that phone as discreetly and quickly as possible (it's probably nothing, anyway) and don't hold up play. Hopefully it doesn't come to this, but sacrificing hitting a shot or two is a lot better than sacrificing your next tee time.

Joel Beall: July 21, 2017. A day that will live in infamy. It was Open Championship week at Royal Birkdale but I was not on-site. Following Friday’s play, my coworker and her then-fiancé decided to go out for an emergency 18 holes. Through seven I was having the round of my life and a round that had a shot at the course record. On the eighth fairway I received a call from my boss, who asked if I could edit a story a colleague had filed late from Birkdale. Feeling ashamed that I had abandoned a post I didn’t know I was supposed to man, I proceeded to blade an approach from 90 yards out on the way to my first bogey. I followed with a 5 on a driveable par 4, then a double on the par-3 10th. I cried stumbled my way to the clubhouse to get the story published, then to a local bar with my coworker knowing there was no libation to put out those flames. Now, does this incident speak to my brittle psyche and lack of gumption? Yes. Does it remain unclear why my boss, or anyone on-site at the tournament for that matter, could not post the story? Absolutely. Has my game spiraled into an abyss that shows no sign of return, punishment from the golf gods for not respecting the gift they bestowed to me that evening? Without a doubt. But the thing is … no, that about covers it. Moral of the story: Keep the phone in the f—ing bag.

Drew Powell: Let me preface with this: I am not a snob. As a golfer in his mid-20s, I consider myself in the progressive bunch when it comes to on-course customs. I say wear the hoodie, play the music and if you’re really set on trying to make joggers work, go for it. My open-mindedness stops, however, with phone calls. (Are they even a thing anymore?) The only thing worse than someone’s phone ringing on the course is the moment when they answer it. If your phone went off while in church or at a Broadway show, would you pick it up? Fine, playing golf isn’t quite the same deal (though some might say it’s both sacred and performative), but the point holds—hit the red button, send a quick text asking if something serious is up, then get back to your $5 Nassau.

Stephen Hennessey: Completely disconnecting from the real world sounds ideal, but that’s not possible for some of us. Urgent calls from work or your spouse on the course are OK, but there are a few things to keep in mind.. A) If it’s a private club, ask your host first. If the club has a no phone policy, you’re out of luck. B) Keep every convo to no more than two minutes. If you can’t, skip the hole and go somewhere quiet so you don’t disrupt play. C) Family emergencies are OK, obviously. I hate phone calls on the course more than anybody, but if my playing partner is following these steps of etiquette, I won’t judge.

Sam Weinman: Even if we agree that phones are an inevitable part of any modern golf round, it doesn’t mean they need to permeate every segment of the experience. There is a limit to how much your eyes should be fixed on a screen because you are incapable of real conversation. I don’t need to be reminded of the latest society crumbling development on Twitter. Unless divorce or unemployment is the alternative, that incoming call buzzing in your bag sure as hell better be going to voicemail.

The golf course as a tech-free haven is not a realistic goal, but if you’re picking up the phone and engaging in conversation in the middle of our fairway, I need at least an apologetic “I need to take this” wave before I silently start to hate you. It better not be about where you left the keys. or some juicy piece of neighborhood gossip, and heaven forbid a speaker phone is involved because by then I’m already halfway to my car.

Chris Powers: Let’s get one thing straight—no one is stopping you from taking a personal call on the golf course. Unless there are actual consequences at the course you’re playing (rare), go ahead, hit answer and talk away. Just know that I, and everyone else in the group, hates you. Another qualifier to avoid offending the easily offended: If it’s an emergency call, we don’t hate you, but make it quick (kidding).

Any other type of call? Save it, especially you “work-related” call takers. If your job was that important, you would not be able to ditch it to play golf. Or, if the job requires you to be on the phone all day, may we suggest a different activity than golf as your playing hooky activity. As for the spousal calls, those are one thing if you have kids. If your wife or husband is just checking to see when you’ll be home, what’s for dinner tonight, or where the remote is, you should be removed from the course for answering that call. It really all depends on the nature of the call and how loudly and how long you are speaking on it. If you make it so nobody even knew you took the call, good on ya. If you’re one of these “LOOK AT ME, I’M ON THE PHONE, I’M IMPORTANT ON EVERY OTHER HOLE” people, kindly, leave.

Greg Gottfried: Phones suck on the golf course. You get a few texts, and suddenly you have non-golf thoughts swimming around in your head. The game is already so fickle, why make it even more difficult? I’m not as staunchly against taking a call as some of our team, as evidenced by the group Slack that turned into the Malice in Palace at the mere mention of the word “phone,” but I have been infuriated by someone walking away from their ball to take a call. Get your sh*t together, man. I do think there’s an etiquette to these things. It’s not all-or-nothing. You should get one (or maybe two, MAX) “hey, sorry, I gotta take this” a round if you really need to. Don’t linger though. Make it snappy and get the call done, and once you’re off, profusely apologize to show that you mean business. At the turn is the best place to be futzing around on a cellular device, and if it throws you off your game, well, I’m all for it. In fact, I may even tell mutual friends to call you on the back nine to really throw you for a loop. Don’t hate the player, hate the game.

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