So here's a revolutionary thought: The PGA Tour is actually considering some ideas that are meant to increase fans' enjoyment of a golf tournament. Imagine that.
All too often in golf, the fan ranks somewhere well below the guy who sets out the rakes around the sand traps. You've got the player/gods, of course, and the tournament organizers, and the host venue honchos, and the caddies, and the sponsors, and the locker-room attendants, and the dude who mans the carving station in the grill room, and somewhere way, way, way down the list is the teeming horde of people who actually, you know, pay to watch this stuff.
Some players, like Ernie Els above, are outstanding with fans, signing autographs and posing for pictures. Phil Mickelson is one of the most fan-friendly guys on tour, signing hundreds of autographs at each stop, handing out balls and even gloves after almost every hole. (I once saw him hand a course marshal one of his golf balls, with instructions to deliver it to a young woman in a wheelchair sitting well away from the action. This was on a Thursday, with no cameras around.)
But then there are those for whom fan relations are the equivalent of a forced march over broken glass. They walk past fans extending programs like they're rushing to get in out of a heavy rain. They come up with any excuse imaginable to skip pro-ams. In short, they treat the fans like garbage. And since the fans keep coming back for more, there's little reason for these pros to change their actions.
Even so, there are indications that change is most definitely afoot. Sean Martin at Golfweek brings us news of several modifications to the current tour model that could make it a much more enjoyable and fan-friendly day at the course. They include:
• The "Designated Tournament" rule, which will bring more players to more small-scale tournaments. An outstanding idea, and one which should have been in place a long time ago.
• Miking up players and caddies to see if it's worth broadcasting their exchanges. I'm more interested in miking up caddies vs. the gallery, but hey, it could work.
• Cell phones on the course? It could happen! Yes, we know what would happen if somebody's cell started chirping out "Boom Boom Pow" in a golfer's backswing. But many fans have said that the fact they can't bring their phones to the course is a dealbreaker. Is tradition worth turning away fans?
So far, so good. These are all steps in the right direction. The PGA Tour has major TV contracts coming up for renewal in 2012, and if it's not careful, it'll be relegated to the "do we get that station on our cable?" channels. Just ask hockey.