Fans' fairway to 7th heaven

PGA embracing social media, allows cell phones

February 17, 2011|By Jeff Shain

Camilo Villegas had just one request for fans now empowered to bring cell phones to the PGA Tour's fairways.

"Just turn (the sound) off, guys — 'vibrate,'" the Colombian pro said during an appearance to promote next month's Honda Classic.

As if on cue, someone's phone announced its presence at the back of the room.

"Heard one!" Villegas quipped.

It won't be the last. Intermittent breaches of the old "Quiet, please" standard are bound to happen. Heck, they've been happening for years as folks sneaked their mobile devices onto the course in violation of the old ban.

Now, though, they'll be more annoyance than outrage, an occupational hazard. (Well, unless one goes off within Steve Williams' earshot …)

Look between the lines, and the announcement goes beyond a policy change. It's a 180-degree turn — from a ban on the devices to a full-on embrace of a social media platform.

"We're going to go full-bore and use it to our advantage," said Eddie Carbone, director of the WGC Cadillac Championship, which will be second in line for the new policy.

"We know demographically that it's tough to reach people 30 and under. The amount of time those people spend on Facebook is hours per week. This is a way for people to organize and get together. We're just ramping it up."

On Wednesday, Hunter Mahan and Justin Rose capped a media briefing for the longtime Doral stop by participating in a question-and-answer session with fans via Twitter.

And that's just the beginning. As long as fans are going to be looking at their mobile devices, Cadillac Championship officials figure they might as well check out tournament doodads.

Initiatives range from on-site "social media happy hours" to trivia contests to "hide and tweets" that will direct fans to locations to receive prizes from the tournament's street team.

Yes, at least one PGA Tour event has a street team.

"We're getting some good coaching, learning from other events," said Carbone, adding that the staff's college interns have provided input. "They're leading the charge."

So are the players, who are pretty tech-savvy themselves and seemingly have made their peace with the possibility of an untimely chirp.

"The players are all for it," Mahan said. "Our fans are smart fans. They understand what we're trying to do out there."

Before amending its policy, the PGA Tour conducted test runs by allowing cell phones through the gates at five events. No player seemed to notice a difference."Anytime you can grow the game," Mahan said, "it's a good thing."

jshain@tribune.com

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