9.23.2012

it's complicated with golf

Tiger Woods. Ever heard of him?

I have conflicting emotions about golf. I'm married to a man who contemplated playing it at the collegiate level. We've spent many a Sunday afternoon on the sofa in front of the television, and I contend that some of my best naps have happened with golf commentary in the background. His beloved clubs have a permanent home in our tiny closet, and he squeezes in a round whenever free time and someone to golf with happen to appear at the same time. I'm glad he has a hobby he enjoys so much.

On the other hand, golf is an expensive and high maintenance sport. You can't play a pick up game in the street or at the park if someone happens to have a ball. It takes money to obtain the right equipment and access to a course. And that course? It takes up large amounts of space, and it has to be green. How environmentally responsible is it to build and water acres of lush grass in the middle of the desert?

My conflict was only heightened on Labor Day. Thanks to new friends with connections to the PGA tour, we scored a couple free tickets to the final day of the Deutsche Bank Championship (sponsors include the named big bank, BMW, and the Wall Street Journal; this just screams expensive luxury). Ian was excited for me to experience his favorite sport firsthand, and I was excited to spend a day outside.

deutsche bank championship

We arrived at the course around lunchtime and started at the third hole to catch Tiger and the other leaders. Ian warned me about cameras and phones, but didn't know the exact rules. I scanned the fine print on our ticket, which informed me I was required to follow posted instructions regarding these devices. Not having seen any posted signs anywhere, I made sure no one was golfing nearby, pulled out my silenced iPhone, and tried to look up the PGA guidelines for photography and mobile devices. Almost immediately, an elderly volunteer with "mobile devices" emblazoned on a tag hanging around her neck told me in short words that I had to put my phone away.

I felt like I was 10 years old, chastised by the teacher everyone feared. She didn't even bother to tell me what rule I was breaking. A few minutes later, a gentleman pulled out a point and shoot digital camera with no attempts to hide it. She looked at him with condescension as she informed him cameras weren't allowed. "How did you get through security with that?" He apologized. This was his first golf event; he didn't know any better and no one in security had said anything. He offered to delete the photo and put away his camera. "Sure, you'll put it away until I turn around." Shaking her head, she escorted him to the far away place where cameras anxiously wait, without their owners, for the conclusion of the event.

And naturally, I was irritated. While this ban on phones and photography is apparently for the players' concentration (yes, it's rude for a loud ring to interrupt a putt attempt), she wasn't even allowing phones when no golfers were in the immediate vicinity. Not to mention television crews and media cameras were much louder and distracting than tiny cameras and phones in the crowd. Are "distractions" only prohibited when they don't interfere with the ability to make a broadcasting profit? I was suspicious that this photography ban was simply to ensure they maintain ownership of all images of anything semi-related to the professional sport. So naturally, I discretely snapped some photos of Tiger when the opportunity presented itself. I am confident I did not interrupt his focus as he walked toward the green.

Later, as we moved on to different holes in pursuit of Tiger's final round red polo and the other leaders, other volunteers were nicer, allowing phones between golfers and chatting about the current standings. There weren't visible leader boards in many places, so often phones were the only way to obtain this information. These nicer volunteers improved my experience, and I was slowly able to accept the first volunteer was a grumpy lady on a power trip.

After a quick break for snacks and a lemonade, we skipped ahead to the 18th tee, staking out the perfect viewing spot before the big names arrived. We stood right next to the walkway the golfers crossed as they arrived from the 17th hole, and it provided a direct line of sight to the golfers as they took their first swing on the final hole. Since I couldn't track the ball against the brilliant blue sky, I started watching the players' reactions to their shots, which provided much more information.

Then Tiger Woods arrived. And a large television camera and photography crew set up directly in front of us. And, for the record, I'm certain the golfers can hear the incessant paparazzi shutter clicks as they snap their shots with gigantic cameras. This is much louder than a silenced phone camera.

deutsche bank championship

As Rory McIlroy and Louis Oosthuizen (who showed up as Oosthui on the leaderboard) walked down the fairway, Ian called his dad to give us a play by play of what was too far away for us to see. We waited along the crowd control ropes as Ian updated me (and the volunteers, who didn't care that he was on the phone because they couldn't see the final golfers either) on whether or not they would be back at the 18th to break a tie. No luck.

We trudged back to our rental car through a sea of polo shirts and neon colors (by this point, sighting Rickie Fowler fans in their orange Puma visors and garish apparel had turned into a modified punch buggy game for us) while I bemoaned that the PGA should be more concerned about the health hazards of the massive amounts of smoking and drinking that happens just yards away from professional athletes.

As we sat at IKEA enjoying a Swedish meatball and macaroni and cheese dinner (because where else do you go when you're hungry, south of the city, and in possession of a car?), Ian and I discussed the day. Did I have fun, he asked? Overall, yes. How do I feel about golf now? It's still complicated.
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