Phoning it in

Through the first two days of play, tournament officials are calling the new policy to allow on-course mobile phone usage a success, and they're pleased that many spectators are virally sharing their tournament experience.


Spectators can make phone calls in designated areas around the course, and send texts or update social media almost anywhere. (Montana Pritchard/The PGA of America)

By John Kim, Coordinating Producer

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- For the first time in 95 years of hosting golf championships, The PGA of America has allowed spectators to bring mobile phones to the course. (okay, cell phones haven’t been around 95 years, but The PGA has…and you get the point.) And the end result?

“So far, so good,” stated Kerry Haigh, Managing Director of Championships and Business Development for The PGA of America. “It’s Friday, so we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, but as of today, it’s been a success.

“We have not been made aware of any incidents where the phones have been disruptive and I’ve certainly seen a number of people utilizing their phones while enjoying the tournament,” he added. “Whether it’s been to look at the leaderboard, connect with other friends at the tournament or maybe even take care of personal business, the important thing is that it’s allowed people who may not have been able to come out in previous years to come enjoy this one.”

One such fan was Lt. Col. Michael Snyder, who is stationed at nearby Fort Knox. He and a friend, a fellow serviceman, came out upon invitation of The PGA of America, which was allowing military personnel free admission, and brought their phones to the course to aide in their enjoyment of the tournament.

“First of all, it was wonderful of The PGA of America to allow servicemen free entry, especially with this being Memorial Day weekend, it was a really appreciated and heartfelt gesture,” Snyder stated.

“And then allowing for the phones, that was a nice bonus. We sent some texts, took one picture by the statue and we looked up a lot of players as they came by,” Snyder explained. “We didn’t make any calls, but the way the set-up was staged, it worked out really well. People could make calls without being a bother to players or fans.”

Nancy Hinks from Louisville was another fan who took advantage of the policy as she walked the course with her husband with her phone clipped to her belt.

“We found out that phones were allowed by reading it in the paper,” she stated. “And it’s been great. We haven’t used it too much, but we’ve been able to send a few texts to friends, take some pictures. It does make coming out here easier.”

Three other friends, Cooper Bond, Jesse Schmidt and Shane Neal, all from Louisville, were among the last fans to leave Valhalla on Friday. All three brought their phones. 

“We actually didn’t know phones weren’t allowed,” Bond admitted, “but it’s been great to have while out here.”

Schmidt stated he had sent a few texts to friends who were not at Valhalla. Bond had used his phone to check for weather updates and Neal admitted he had not used his phone at all.

Though all three were carrying phones, all agreed that it was not a determining factor in coming out to the course.

“I’m here to watch golf, not communicate with friends that aren’t,” Schmidt stated. “It’s nice, but not that big a deal.”

Fans were allowed to talk on the phone only in designated areas, but texting, data browsing and social media updating were fine almost anywhere. Getting fans to virally share their experience was another goal of tournament officials.

But two days of success should not be seen as an indicator of future championships. Haigh says no decisions have been made about phone use at other PGA events, but acknowledges that mobile communications are now standard personal and business devices for many golf fans.

“We understand that it’s how the world works,” he said. “We also need to make sure we have an environment best suited to host a major championship.”