How the Masters can help you break your cellphone addiction

(Yahoo Sports)
(Yahoo Sports)

AUGUSTA, Ga. — The news of O.J. Simpson’s death radiated across the country in the minutes after his family posted the midmorning notice on social media. From Buffalo to Los Angeles, Americans learned about and reckoned with Simpson’s passing — everywhere but in Augusta.

Cellphones aren’t permitted on the grounds for patrons at Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Masters. The only way patrons could find out about Simpson’s death was through word of mouth from someone who’d been on the outside, and one reporter on the scene shocked more than a few patrons with the news.

Augusta National’s cellphone ban isn’t just a suggestion. Violators risk not just expulsion from the grounds, but a lifetime ban from one of America’s most beloved bucket-list items. It’s a tall price to pay and a heavy risk to take just to keep up with a few texts … and, for the most part, patrons are willing to put up with it.

“I do think now going without our phones can be a religious experience, where people really are in their bodies and in their minds and relating to each other in the world in a radically new way that can feel totally amazing,” says Dr. Anna Lembke, a Stanford professor and author of “Dopamine Nation,” “especially if it’s done en masse as part of a ritualized experience that says, 'Hey, we want to be fully present for this event. We don’t want anything else to be fully present for this event.'”

What happens when you leave your cellphone behind

Every Augusta National patron, particularly the first-timers, goes through the same routine during their first hours at the course. There’s the constant patting of the pockets, the burning need to research or fact-check a topic that comes up in conversation, the nagging fear that you’re missing a text from a friend or a bit of breaking news. (Which, in this case, patrons absolutely did.)

“I’ve found myself doing this a lot,” says Jon Furnas of Tulsa, Oklahoma, tapping at his empty pocket. “I have found that I want to take pictures, though.”

But soon enough, something changes in the psyche of the phone-less patron. The day gets a little brighter. The moment gets a little more rich. The chirps of birds and the soft wisp of the wind become clearer. Conversations start to sparkle. Strangers become friends. Connections form and grow.

“The fear of missing out is really much, much less when everybody’s missing out on the virtual world and collectively present for an event,” Lembke says. “Then you end up getting the opposite, where you feel like, we’re really in the place, and the other people are missing out.”

“Having a camera is good, but if you got your phone out, you’d be on Facebook, Instagram, all your social medias,” says Kelsey Zimmerman of Augusta. “When you’re disconnected, you can live in the moment, take in the trees, plants, all that good stuff.”

She wasn’t particularly concerned about any missed texts. Instead, she had a more pragmatic plan for when she reunited with her cellphone: “I really want to look on eBay and Facebook Marketplace and see what the Masters eclipse glasses are going for.”

In case of emergencies or babysitter check-ins, Augusta National maintains banks of phones with free long-distance calling. That, of course, highlights another potential problem of over-reliance on cellphones:

“I’d like to get in touch with my kids,” laughed David Calhoun of Atlanta, “but I don’t know their phone number, so … ”

AUGUSTA, GEORGIA - APRIL 09: Patrons use courtesy phones prior to Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 9, 2024 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Ben Jared/PGA TOUR via Getty Images)
Patrons use courtesy phones at Augusta National Golf Club on Tuesday. (Ben Jared/PGA TOUR via Getty Images)

Players love the cellphone ban

The players notice the absence of cellphones, too, and appreciate it.

“Everyone’s very, very present. They’re not focused on if they got the right [camera] shot that they’re sending, and maybe they don’t even know where your ball went,” 2015 Masters champion Jordan Spieth says. “It’s very nice, because you feel like everyone’s there with you all the time.”

“It's super special. I think it adds a lot of value to the tournament because you have the crowds, and it's a different energy,” Joaquin Niemann adds. “They're just focused on watching golf, which I think is pretty cool. It changes a lot.”

Spieth knows that there’s a big-picture need for cellphones, just not every week. “I also understand how advantageous cellphones are for the growth of our sport,” Spieth said. “It's nice for a week, but if it was every tournament, you know, our growth would be limited.”

At the Masters, growth is constant and assured, regardless of whether Augusta National bans cellphones from the course or bans them from the city limits. For the patrons, the challenge is whether they can expand their phone-less time beyond their time on the course at the Masters.

“It's a way to give people an opportunity — albeit a forced one — to put down their phones for the day and re-engage with real life,” says Catherine Price, author of “How to Break Up With Your Phone." “I hope that the experience might inspire people to try something similar in their daily lives.”

The sad truth is that at this point, only something with the gravitas — and the implied threat — of Augusta National can sever us from our phones for more than just a few minutes. But if you are fortunate enough to get to the grounds of Augusta National, you might just find an unexpected benefit beyond the inexpensive pimento cheese sandwiches. You might learn you don’t need that cellphone as much as you thought you did.