Charles Schwab Challenge

Colonial Country Club

No Phones Beyond Here

Masters 2023: Our screen-addicted reporter is covering his first Masters phone-free and somehow living to tell the tale

Masters 2023

Ben Walton

AUGUSTA, Ga. — I had heard all about the no-phone policy at Augusta National prior to my first Masters. How could I not? In countless conversations I've had with people who've had the good fortune of attending this event before, the subject usually comes up within the first 30 seconds. "And you can't bring your phones in, it's like going back in time!" What these people fail to realize is that going back in time sounds cool until you get there and you can't stream the first pitch of a Yankee day game on a screen that fits inside of your pocket.

I had even mentally prepared for it, convincing myself it would be a good thing not only for my own mental health, but for covering the golf tournament. Paying attention to what's happening around you, taking notes with a pen and paper, coming up with story ideas other than the ones people are talking about on Golf Twitter—all the stuff I should and could do on any other week rather than burying my head in my device and opening up the same six apps over and over again.

Ultimately, it is a good thing. It's the type of policy that should be adopted in many other places like fancy restaurants or your in-laws' house (OK, maybe not that one). Of course, there are still plenty of drawbacks, which has led me to come up with a classic pros and cons list for ANGC's strict no cell phone mandate. Note for the take-everything-seriously folk: This is tongue-in-cheek. I am having the time of my life covering my first-ever Masters without the crutch of my iPhone, and am not in any way suggesting you should feel bad that I sometimes have to suffer without it (you can still use it in the media center, you just can't take it to the golf course. The HORROR). Glad we got that out of the way.

Pro: Eye contact, saying hello to people, being a normal human

This was the very first thing I noticed while walking around with my colleague Stephen Hennessey on Tuesday morning. I couldn't help wondering if we both had something in our teeth with the amount of people that were staring at us. We're not exactly famous, even on Golf Twitter, so something felt off. Then it hit me—no one's eyes are looking down at their phone. Everyone's simply ... living. Taking in all the scenery, stopping and smelling the roses, if you will. "Mornin'" and "how are ya" are things people actually say to each other here. Is this how it was like in the early 1900s? What a time to be alive.

Con: Having to be a normal human

The pandemic, and our phones, have made us all docile robots who refuse to leave home unless there is a fire inside, which has had an unbelievably negative impact on our social skills, myself included. I've become the type who would rather sit home and scroll Twitter on my phone with the TV on in the background than go out and do things. Literally any things. Go to a bar? Ew, there are people there. Go out for dinner? Didn't think Uber Eats? Go for a walk? You mean like outside? Play golf? OK, I'll go outside for that, but that's about it. Being social sucks now, though I'll admit there are worse places to have to do it than Augusta National. I would converse with a brick wall here.

Pro: No "where are you?" texts from the boss, wife

Luckily, one of my bosses, Sam Weinman, was here this week, so we know the deal when we're all "heading out" to the course. Zero Dark Thirty-23, activated, LeBron-style. But on a normal week on the road, you're out on the course and constantly being bombarded with messages like "where are you?" and "what are you working on?" and "Hey, I have this idea for you ..." It's necessary, but can often feel overwhelming when you're just trying to take in the golf and hope that a natural story you can chase develops. That's exactly what happens here at Augusta and it's quite glorious. As for the wife, luckily I made sure she knew the deal before I left this week. We've barely spoken. Excited to get the "I don't even recognize you" line when I finally return home. High-drama only.

Con: I enjoy being dialed in to everything going on at work

As you're keenly aware by now, I'm a slave to my phone. A slave to work group chats, a slave to our website metrics, a slave to Twitter. Not being able to fire off tweets from the course, not being able to see how many page views my article is getting and not being able to give work-from-home folks some boots-on-the-ground takes is excruciating. There's nothing like a weekend at a major championship in the work group chat. There's nothing like being tuned in to everything that's going on. Here, you're basically tuned into only the group you're currently following, and even then it's hard to know what's happening ...

Con: Not knowing what's happening

This obviously goes hand-in-hand with the con above, but I'm talking more in the literal sense of following the tournament. Everyone likes to romanticize the manual live leader board thing here, but it gets a lot less romantic when you have no idea if Tony Finau is trying to get up and down for birdie or for par at the second hole. For a gambler like myself, it's pure tortue. On a normal week, I'm refreshing shot tracker every 0.3 seconds following my guys. Here, it's in God's hands.

Pro: Awareness

I've seen and heard this take elsewhere, and I partly agree with it - it's possible that because people aren't staring at their phones all day that they were able to react quicker to the trees falling on Friday. I know, it sounds like a leap, but we all go hours at a time on our phones and realize we weren't paying attention to literally anything else around us, be it while driving (dumb), walking around or being out at a bar or restaurant. Without the crutch of the phone, you're fully aware of everything around you. Maybe Augusta really is on to something...