Travelers Championship

TPC River Highlands

The New Rules of Smartphone Use

By Alan P. Pittman Illustrations by Getty Images
May 20, 2015

Technology is more pervasive and relevant to our lives than ever before. And leading that charge is the smartphone. The first mobile phones to feature software applications or "apps" (using a stylus and touch screen) hit the market about 20 years ago. Since then they've advanced to become indispensable multipurpose computers the size of a deck of cards. Astonishing, considering how other things, like commercial airplanes, have remained basically the same during that time.

Turns out, we love our smartphones. In fact, we really, really love them, and nowadays we use them for everything.

Like most media sites, more people visit on their phones than on their laptops. A recent study found that we spend almost four hours a day staring at the screens on our phones—more time than we spend watching TV. And video-streaming websites like Netflix and Vevo are seeing a surge in users streaming video on their smartphones.

The industry is embracing this growth. Twitter recently launched Periscope, an app that allows people to stream live video on their phone. In the golf space, new smartphone apps are launching all the time, doing everything from tracking personal stats in real time, to offering swing advice, to improving your on-course psychology.

Given that the world around us is changing so drastically, the rules regarding smartphone use on the golf course should shift alongside it. If golf in the past was a phone-less, exclusive, etiquette-fueled haven, the rise of smartphones is helping reshape the game in a new generation's image.

"I'm always on my phone when I'm on the course," says Bubba Watson, a seven-time winner on the PGA Tour who has more than one million Twitter followers. "I'm always texting my friends and family, tweeting; it makes golf more fun."

Lexi Thompson, one of the LPGA Tour's bright young stars and Golf Digest's cover subject last month, has all but perfected the gym selfie, which has become a mainstay on her Instagram account.

"It's a great way of keeping in touch with my fans and letting them know what I'm doing," Thompson says. "It's something I have fun with."

The rest of us might not have hoards of fans hanging on our every status update, but this mind-set reflects a broader attitude shift when it comes to phones on the golf course.

According to a recent survey of Golf Digest's 233,000 Twitter followers, nearly half of those who responded describe their attitudes as "liberal" when it comes to on-course smartphone use (see results below). They keep their phones with them when they play, usually in their bag or cart, and not only because of emergencies. They text friends, take pictures, answer emails and post the occasional selfie. Whatever inspires them in the moment. The golf course is still seen as a place to unplug, but increasingly it's a selective unplug instead of the full-scale disconnect it was not so long ago.

When it comes to using smartphones on the course, what's acceptable and what's not is fluid, but it's starting to gravitate around certain values. Among them: "Don't be rude," and "Use common sense."

As our survey suggests, a lot of golfers are fine with using their phones on the course, provided it's not obtrusive to their playing partners. If our respondents support any kind of cellphone policy, it starts and ends with respecting the rules of the course you're playing and always keeping your phone on silent. And we at Golf Digest agree.

Text on the golf course all you want. Just don't hold up play. If you have a phone call you need to take, duck to the side and keep it quick. If you like using your smartphone to play music on the course, go for it. Just ask your playing partners first. And, please, for goodness' sake, allow some mutual control over the playlist. We're not animals.

Take lots of pictures, early and often. Instagramming, Tweeting, Snapchatting, Facebooking, Vining, whatever-ing—go for it, as long as you don't annoy your followers. There's nothing worse than one person bombarding everyone else's feeds. Asking somebody to video your swing is fine, but don't ask them more than twice a round. Gets annoying. Have fun filming other people's swings, too—just make sure to ask them before standing directly behind them with the camera. Also annoying.

It's common sense, and honestly, it's kind of liberating. You'll be amazed at how much people love sharing in your experiences. Just don't spend the whole round staring at a screen (you are outside with friends, after all), but do what makes you happiest. Smartphones aren't going anywhere, so you might as well embrace them and create something fun. It's all good with us.

Luke Kerr-Dineen


1. Describe the attitudes toward smartphones at your home course.

(a) Liberal. We post selfies from the bar and first tee 46%

(b) Tolerated. There are usage restrictions that most people follow 30%

(c) Transitioning. It's way more relaxed than it used to be 21%

(d) Shunned. Get caught with it, and you're getting a letter 3%

2. During a round, my smartphone is...

(a) In the cart 42%

(b) In my bag 35%

(c) In my pocket 19%v (d) In my car, where it belongs 4%

3. I'm most likely to use my smartphone at the course to...

(a) Check email or post to social media 36%

(b) Track stats or watch instruction videos 29%

(c) Monitor the weather or sports scores 25%

(d) Film my swing or take a selfie 10%

4. How many times do you check or use your smartphone during a round?

(a) Every few holes 44%

(b) Once at the turn or after the round 22%

(c) Never 17%

(d) Between most shots 17%

5. What's the worst breach of etiquette involving a smartphone on the golf course?

(a) Having the phone go off during someone's backswing 41%

(b) Holding up play 31%

(c) Checking email or talking on the phone between shots 20%

(d) Getting information that's against the rules, such as assisting in the play of a hole 6%v (e) Taking photos or selfies 2%

6. To what extent do you need your smartphone when playing golf?

(a) I have it in my bag in case of emergencies, but I try to forget it's there 66%

(b) I try not to be rude, but I can't go a few holes without at least checking my email 26%

(c) Thanks to Bluetooth, I don't even have to interrupt my conference calls when putting! 5%v (d) I leave it in the car and turn it on when I'm done 3%

7. Can you play 18 without checking your phone?

(a) Absolutely. My phone isn't the boss of me 50%

(b) No way. My phone and I are inextricably linked 21%

(c) I'm sure it would be good for me. I'm doing it the next time I play 21%

(d) Probably, but I'd experience withdrawal symptoms 8%

8. If your playing partner made one of the following calls, which one would bother you the most?

(a) Calling the golf pro for a swing thought 46%

(b) Letting a spouse know when I'll be home 30%

(c) Calling the office to check in 18%

(d) Placing an order with the halfway house 6%

9. Which phone restriction would you be fine with adopting at your course?

(a) Golf course is OK if your phone is set to silent or vibrate 45%

(b) No official policy. Use common sense 43%

(c) Clubhouse only 8%

(d) Parking lot only 4%


By Rickie Fowler


Golf's social. In casual rounds, who you play with and where you play is more important than how you play. That's why I think the perfect selfie is often about everything but yourself. No one likes a picture where it feels like you're showing off, even if that wasn't your intention. If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook, you might've noticed I often frame myself in a lower corner so that more attention is directed to my playing partners and our surroundings. Keep an eye out for moments when everyone in the group happens to be close together, like around a green or tee box. Here is a pic I grabbed of Michelle Wie and some of our buddies practicing. Spontaneous shots have more energy than staged ones where everyone gathers around (though those can be pretty fun, too, especially later in the round). Also, think about which characteristics best define a place. You tend to get the most memorable image not by pointing your camera down a fairway, but by looking for features outside the course's boundary.

There are so many apps out there that it's way past the point of being overwhelming. Apps can do almost anything, and that's good for golfers. Instruction, humor, news, course management—use them right and smartphones can be a golfer's best friend.

One of the downsides of having a smartphone is that the potential for a damaging mistake is always at your fingertips. Gaffes happen to everyone, including those with a large audience and a household name. See what we mean


One of my favorite photos I ever took is a shot of the 13th hole at the Glen Golf Club in Scotland, and I took it with my iPhone. Sure, it's hard to take a bad picture at a links course along the Scottish coast, but it's one that has always resonated with me: a combination of perfect late-daylight, an unforgettable location and the memory of that magical 4-iron I hit. Taking a good picture during your round is easier than ever, and I have three simple tips for doing it on your smartphone.



This might be the most important element to taking a good golf-course photo. Early morning and late afternoon are the best times. That "golden light" will make colors more vibrant and the sky more dramatic, and the low angle of the light will produce shadows that help accentuate the contours of the course (right). Overcast conditions produce even lighting, and that's a great time to take portraits of your buddies. Without direct sunlight you'll avoid those harsh shadows. As for landscape shots, if you're playing Pebble Beach on a cloudy day, don't let the sky dominate the shot. Place it in the upper third of the frame.


This is critical to any picture. Always think about how you're framing the shot. Find a point of interest to pull the viewer in: a green, interesting tree, halfway house, unique bunker or a silhouette of your buddy walking down the fairway. Where you place those focal points is equally important. The rule of thirds is always a good guide. Divide your frame with two equally spaced vertical and horizontal lines. Place important elements of the picture along those imaginary lines and where they intersect. If you're playing along the coast or in the desert, find ways to incorporate those elements. Elevation also helps give a picture perspective and depth, so don't be lazy. Climb that sand dune! Always have a straight horizon line, even if you can't manage to keep your drive straight.


Images shot on your phone often look a bit flat. There are apps on the market that can add life to your image. My go-to is Snapseed. Other good ones include Camera+, Photogene and Luminance. Adjusting the saturation, contrast, brightness or horizon line is an easy way to punch up a picture. Whatever you do, avoid HDR (high dynamic range) and drama filters. It shouldn't look like you just played 18 on Mars. Finally, have fun, and don't forget to post your best golf photos with the hashtag #whyIlovethisgame.

Christian Iooss, Director of Photography for Golf Digest


Ashley Mayo


I am pathological about checking my phone—so bad that in the time since I started writing this sentence, I've checked it three... make that four times. Some of this I can blame on my job as Editor for, where the news cycle can be about as long as an elevator ride. But when I described my phone dependency to Dr. Larry Rosen, a psychology professor at California State University who has written extensively about our use of technology, he says this behavior is a function of "wanting to reduce anxiety." Which sounds about right: If there are emails and texts piling up on my phone like snow on a parked car, I can't stand the idea of not knowing about it.

But it's not just dread, because phones are also a reliable source of instant gratification. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat—they're all opportunities for the world to signal their approval for whatever we're doing. "Smartphones can be psychologically rewarding and can reinforce behavior so we do it again," says Dr. Zaheer Hussain of the University of Derby in England, who has studied smartphone addiction. "It raises our self-esteem and makes us feel good about our actions."

Which brings us to golf, a game that has a tendency to do the opposite. Our survey revealed that most golfers prefer to have their phones with them during a round, but where we still struggle in the game is determining what's essential and what's superfluous. In a study by Hussain and research partner Claire Pearson, respondents spent about 3.63 hours a day on their smartphones. In a golf context, it would mean you basically couldn't hit a shot without checking your phone, which also means I can't count on you to keep an eye on my screaming hook.

So if we agree that your smartphone behavior on the golf course needs to deviate at least a little from, say, what you do at work, where do you draw the line? As a healthy medium, Rosen advocates designating a set time to check your phone—maybe every 30 minutes, or every three holes, for no more than a minute. The objective is to arrive at a time differential that's not going to have you glued to your phone's screen but not drive you crazy wondering if you've missed an important email.

"Either way, you don't want to do something that's going to screw up your golf game," Rosen says. "My attitude is that people should be able to carry their phones. But there has to be a balance."

Acknowledging my unhealthy phone habits, my rule for golf is that I don't allow myself to check my phone while I'm playing well, which isn't so rare an event when considering my modest standards. It could be two pars to start. I could just be on pace to break 90. Until there's some kind of implosion—and there's always at least one—my phone stays passively in my bag. As a golfer, I aspire to an entire round without feeling compelled to plug back in to the world. It could mean missing a vital email and losing my job, but at that point, I suspect it would be worth it. —Sam Weinman



The Rules of Golf permit smartphone use during a round—provided it doesn't assist you in your play or in making a stroke. If a Local Rule allows devices that measure distance, you can use your phone for that function. No Local Rule? You can use it to dial your spouse, check weather radar, consult a yardage book, review your favorite chipping tip or tweet about your birdie. Don't use it to call/text someone for swing or shot advice, listen to music to improve your tempo or to calculate effective distance, such as factoring wind or elevation. —Ron Kaspriske



As best I can tell there are only three possible reasons that you would need to have a phone on the golf course:

Short of that, and I mean this with all due respect, shut that damn thing off, take it to your car and shove it up your glove compartment. If you're expecting a call that important, then you obviously think you're more important than I think you are, so you're wasting my time. If you need a digital GPS map of the hole, here's a tip: Look straight ahead. And if you need to document each moment of your existence more intensely than Ken Burns in a time machine, I prefer you use the scorecard. Not Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat. Never Snapchat.

It's not that I'm some sort of Luddite when it comes to technology and golf. I have a launch monitor under my desk. I'm even OK if you have your phone out on the range. Not really, but I'm getting soft in my old age.

No, the golf course doesn't need the smartphone. My thinking: If it ain't cool in church, it shouldn't be cool on a golf course. If it's wrong at the dinner table (and believe me, it is), shut it down and look at me when I'm talking to you. And for crying out loud, if they tell you to turn it off in a movie theater that's showing "Mall Cop 2," then it sure as heck should be turned off as you walk along Mother Nature's most perfect playing field.

The whole world seems obsessed with being in a hurry, and the vehicle for that journey to nowhere fast is the smartphone. That's not to say golf should be played laboriously. You can play the game quickly and still not be in a hurry. Find a way to linger in golf's reality instead of any virtual world you might have created on your touchscreen. If you can't be bothered to embrace golf's great escape, go back to your pathetic little Candy Crush/Tinder excuse of a life. I'll play as a single.

Or try it my way, and see what you've been missing. The sound the stream makes as it runs over the rocks behind the fifth hole. That Carolina duck staring at you as you steady yourself over the ball on the 11th tee. That smile from your partner when you finally make a putt that matters on 18. Trust me, you won't miss your phone. Even if the president is calling. —Mike Stachura