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On the golf course, a call for etiquette

Chris Harlan
| Saturday, June 22, 2013, 11:45 p.m.
Billy Horschel hits his tee shot on the fifth hole during the final round of the U.S. Open o June 16, 2013, at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore.
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Billy Horschel hits his tee shot on the fifth hole during the final round of the U.S. Open o June 16, 2013, at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore.

Colin Montgomerie has no problem with spectators carrying cell phones on the golf course, but he does question their taste in music.

“Some of these ringtones are awful,” he said of the cringe-worthy songs that occasionally interrupt a backswing. “I wish they were just like a phone and not music blazing out.”

Please, no more “Who Let the Dogs Out” to bother a drive. No more “Play that Funky Music” during a putt.

Not that unexpected beeps, rings or clicks would be much better.

“We've all encountered cell phone moments,” Montgomery said with a laugh.

At the Constellation Senior Players Championship this week at Fox Chapel Golf Club, he'll be among those in a field wishing for every cell phone to be silenced, as required. The PGA Tour, which oversees the Champions Tour, in 2011 decided to allow spectators to carry cell phones so long as they are set to vibrate or silent, ending an impractical ban that was difficult to enforce.

Since the ban was lifted, the tour allows cell phones to be used for calls only in designated areas away from play. Violators could have their devices temporarily confiscated or be forced to leave.

The policy change was beneficial, said Joe Rotellini, executive director of the Senior Players event.

“We had more issues when they weren't allowed at all,” said Rotellini, who most recently oversaw the Liberty Mutual Insurance Legends of Golf in Savannah, Ga., along with a number of events before cell phones were allowed. “People would still try to sneak them in, and if they did get in with a cell phone, they really didn't know the etiquette of how and where to use it.”

These are new challenges for an old sport steeped in etiquette.

With cell phone companies among its sponsors, the tour has tried to embrace smartphone users with live-scoring apps and Twitter updates.

“We live in a different social world now,” Montgomerie said. “To take a cell phone away from someone is like taking an arm off. It's attached to people's bodies nowadays, and I think it's wrong to take them away. Provided the cell phone is silenced on the course, I don't see any problem.”

Phones remain banned at the U.S. Open and the Masters. Organizers of the PGA Tour's Memorial Tournament had teams of volunteers follow the most popular groups, watching for spectators who violated the phone policy. Also of interest were fans who snapped pictures or recorded video, two activities still banned during tournaments.

Similar volunteer groups have patrolled other PGA courses this season, but they won't be used at Fox Chapel.

“We'll certainly take a look at them during our post-championship critique,” Rotellini said, “but there are pros and cons. It depends on the environment you want to set.”

The largest crowds at Fox Chapel are sure to follow Montgomerie, Rocco Mediate and Fred Couples. For them, noisy galleries wouldn't be new.

“Our players want to compete and win maybe just as bad as the guys on the PGA Tour,” Rotellini said, “but they're older and a little more relaxed.”

Billy Horschel, who was in contention at last week's U.S. Open, said cell phones are a problem “once in awhile” on the PGA Tour.

“People don't understand that their phone's on (or) don't pay attention,” said Horschel, who believed the benefit for spectators outweighed the downside for players.

“It's gotten better and better,” said Brandt Snedeker, who was paired for two rounds at the U.S. Open with winner Justin Rose. “There's always a few clicks here and there. People seem to realize that silent goes a long way. Put silent on, and all of that stuff takes care of itself.”

Cell phone distraction earned added attention when Phil Mickelson withdrew from last year's Memorial citing metal fatigue.

“Some guys are conscious of everybody around, and it bothers them,” said Steve Stricker, who played last week with Mickelson for the first two U.S. Open rounds. “Some guys it doesn't bother at all. It depends on what type of player you are and how many people are following you. I know with Phil, he'll get a lot of cameras and a lot of people trying to take his picture, and it becomes a problem then.”

Rotellini would encourage fans to leave their phone in the car. But he understands the attachment; he'll be carrying his phone set to vibrate.

“It's a social world we live in,” Montgomerie said. “Where we go, our cell phone goes.”

Staff writer Scott Brown contributed. Chris Harlan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @CHarlan_Trib.

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