Fri Jul 30 11:41am EDT
[Editor's note: Welcome aboard Will Brinson, everybody. He'll be covering the Wyndham for us in a few weeks. Here's a preliminary dispatch. — JB]
GREENSBORO, N.C. — Cell phones are the scourge of golfers worldwide. Professional golfers have it the worst, too — patrons constantly defy the rules of various venues, sneak their mobiles under the ropes, and forget to turn off their ringers.
Tough life for those pros, I tell you.
Things are going to get tougher at the Wyndham Championship in 2010, when the PGA Tour will test out a first in mobile device policies by allowing patrons to bring their cell phones onto the course.
Yes, the Wyndham is a guinea pig, and yes, it will be interesting to see how a group of patrons handles the responsibility for handling — and turning off — their phones.
"I'm confident about it," Mark Brazil, tournament director, told Yahoo! Sports. "Cell phones ring at every event I've ever been too, majors included. So I think if we're proactive about this and people understand that it's allowed people sometimes start following the rules a little better."
The proactive part of Brazil's plan seems to be in place and, obviously, it won't be a free-for-all on the Donald Ross-designed grounds of Sedgefield Country Club. In fact, from the sound of things, the Wyndham should have enough contingencies in place to make sure that the gallery doesn't end up sounding like an airport terminal.
That starts with the entrance: Fans will be reminded by ticket takers to put the phones on vibrate and/or silent. Presumably, they'll need to show said phone — that should take care of 50 percent of the problem, considering that accidental rings are probably the second-biggest issue.
Specially designated tents will be located around the course — likely behind concession stands — as well, to provide patrons reasonably frequent opportunities to use their phones. After all, the impetus for the policy is the frequent complaining by fans that it's impossible to get in touch with family members and friends while at the event. (Even so, some places will never change. See here for a look at what you risk at Augusta by bringing in your cell phone.)
But there's an interesting business twist, as well, utilizing the obvious technological advantages that today's phones offer.
"As the title sponsor — or any sponsor of a PGA event — it's all about fan connectivity and interacting with your fans," Kevin Rinker, Senior VP of Sports Marketing at Wyndham told Yahoo! Sports. "So from our perspective, if it's managed well, if the fans respect the players and the game, to us, it's a good thing, because it allows you to do some text to win promotions, it allows you to tie fans into contests."
Rinker pointed specifically to the software available to mobile users that would allow them to receive coupons for nearby concession stands and merchandise tents.
There's also the notion of PDA users utilizing geo-targeted applications such as Gowalla and Twitter to unlock specials vis-a-vis interaction with corporate accounts and other consumers. Really, that's just the beginning of it.
"There's a lot of business reasons why it makes sense for us," Rinker said. "And we just hope the fans respect it and the PGA Tour adopts something that works well."
The bigger issue may arise from patrons spending a long day in the sun filled with multiple trips to the Natty Green's (a local, and quite good, brewing company) tent.
"The problem I would see is if, at some point in time, with the more people ... consume certain things you don't really get too concerned about what's going on around them," defending champion Ryan Moore acknowledged. "You just don't want people stumbling around, walking around the golf course with cell phone in hand. That's where it might not be too good."
Moore's take on the cell phone policy wasn't all bad at all though — he acknowledged that "it could be really successful" with the proper parameters in place.
Then again, Moore didn't seem to have a particularly emotive set of feelings toward the subject either.
"Well, I don't have a very strong opinion about it in the first place," Moore said. "I'm not one of those guys that gets bothered by talking — I just don't pay attention, I really don't. I feel like if somebody's standing right in front of me right while I'm hitting or pushing me, it shouldn't bother me. I feel like if you let people bring them out there and actually let them have [phones], they'll probably go use [the designated] areas more. And that's fine, I think it's a good way to do it."
The PGA Tour seems serious about trying to make this a tour-wide policy, too.
"This was not our idea," Brazil remarked. "It's something [the tour] asked us, 'Would you like to be the first one?' and we decided we'd start it out."
And why not? After all, if the tour is determined to let fans carry phones — which they appear to be — Brazil and his team will likely have to introduce the policy at some point anyway. Doing so on their own terms and in a groudbreaking fashion is just good business for everyone involved with the tournament.
Besides, playing ball with the PGA on an issue that, ahem, rings so loudly with fans is a good idea for the Wyndham, which continues to lobby the tour for an earlier date that doesn't keep the bigger names from entering the tournament.