Has it really been one month since I constructively criticized the PGA Championship for not allowing fans to bring their cell phones into its 2010 event at Whistling Straits?
It should not have been that long, because it was quickly after that blog was posted that I received a phone call from Ken Lovell, Vice President of Media Development for the PGA Tour.
With the Ryder Cup on the docket for this weekend and people thinking golf during an already predictable media-heavy football season, I decided that today was the “better late than never” time to share what Lovell told me about how the PGA is in tune with its fans’ desire to shoot photos and react to what’s going while they attend a professional golf tournament.
While I fully expected a defensive rant about what I wrote, I was wrong, not just about the PGA’s reaction, but by writing that it wasn’t in tune with a fan base that wants to share their tournament experiences via social media networks.
He also wanted to be sure that I made the distinction between the PGA Tour and PGA of America. The PGA Tour, for the record, is the membership organization of touring golf professionals that we see on television each week, and runs most of the tournaments. PGA of America is an organization of club professionals in the U.S., and it runs the PGA Championship.
Lovell told me that my post was actually timely, which could have been PR-speak (takes one to know one!), but he had facts to back it up. The week following the PGA Championship, the PGA Tour hosted the Wyndham Championship, at which it allowed fans to bring cell phones into the tournament as an experiment. He said that the test was largely about educating fans about where and when to use their phones, and not disrupt athletes and other fans.
The PGA posted extensive signage and volunteers were on-site to explain to fans that they needed to silence their phones, but could use them in designated areas which in most cases, were near concessions since that is where people tend to congregate.
“The objective of the test was to see if fans would silence their devices and use them without interfering with the competition,” Lovell said. “We’re still collecting feedback, but early indications are positive.”
The tour will conduct another trial at the Frys.com Open, which is scheduled for October 13-17, 2010 at CordeValle Golf Club in San Martin, Calif.
Lovell said that he could relate to fans that are frustrated when they have to leave their phones behind because of the inconvenience it would cause him if he had to forgo his main communications device.
“We definitely understand and appreciate the benefits that cell phones can bring to fans on-site as well as the challenge they can face in being ‘cut off’ from what many consider a modern lifeline,” Lovell said. “Because it could affect the fairness and integrity of the sport, we are also very concerned about the competition and anything that would have an impact on it.
Incidentally, although Lovell and I spoke about two different golf organizations and their events, he said that the PGA of America took note of the test the Tour ran “with interest” and it is considering ways to enhance its fans’ experiences, as well.