AUGUSTA, Ga. — Look, we get it: you’re probably a little sick of the romanticization of Augusta National, particularly if you’ve never trod upon its hallowed, verdant pathways, your eyes turned heavenward ‘neath a canopy of towering pines — sorry, sorry; I meant to say “particularly if you’ve never been here.” This place, man. It gets to you.
For all the purple prose and tricked-up scenery that Augusta National inspires, there’s something special about the grounds that has nothing to do with the immaculate fairways and brilliant azaleas. It’s the silence, my friend, the absolute stillness that’s like nowhere else in this hyperconnected world. The Masters is one of the last bastions of cell phone-free America, a place where you can watch golf and drink cheap beer without the threat of an annoying text from a relative or a meaningless call from the office. And, my friend, I’m here to tell you: it’s glorious.
For all the grief that Augusta National gets — often with good reason — for perpetuating manners and codes of a bygone era, there is this simple fact: living a few hours without a cell phone reinvigorates the mind, feeds the soul, and lets you reconnect with some long-lost skills like “conversation” and “eye contact.” You end up talking to someone from the other side of the planet, and then you talk to someone who happens to know your parents. Or you walk in silence, eavesdropping and meditating. Either way, at Augusta National you’re present in the real world in a way you can’t ever be with an infernal, addictive phone in your hand.
Of course, it’s not like you have a choice. Augusta National doesn’t play with its cell phone policy. Bring your iPhone on to the grounds, and you’re risking not just immediate expulsion, but the permanent loss of your badge. That means you might be depriving your unborn great-grandchildren of the chance to watch Jordan Spieth III dominate the 2075 Masters because you just had to post that selfie of yourself and a pimento cheese sandwich, didn’t you?
The draconian policy shocks first-timers; every morning, patrons bid farewell to their phones in the parking lot like they’re leaving loved ones behind and heading to war. They’re twitchy at first, sensing a longing like a phantom limb itching, perhaps feeling a phone buzz in their pocket that isn’t really there. But within a few minutes, the need to update one’s status fades. Look around, and you’ll see it: no one’s glancing down at a screen while they carry on conversations. No one’s crafting the perfect Facebook update to make the folks back home jealous. People talk. People connect. And people remember that this is how we, as a species, used to communicate in the long-ago days of 2006.
“It’s nice not to be needed,” said Tom Forsyth, a Toronto resident down for the week. “It’s nice to be able to get away from it all.” Granted, most Masters patrons are from generations that knew how to exist on a day-to-day basis without a cell phone, but Tom’s sentiment was a remarkably popular and consistent one.
Pam McKay lamented only that she couldn’t stay in touch with family while at the course. “We have to plan a little more to meet up,” said the Madison, Wisconsin resident, in town with her father Dan.
Between the ropes, Augusta National has come in for criticism for the way it’s modernized and updated its course to a near-unrecognizable degree from its 1934 origins. But to a large extent, life amongst the patrons is remarkably similar now to the way it’s been for more than 80 years, a technology-free environment you now can’t find anywhere else in America. Even if you ditch your cell phone one afternoon, just try getting everyone around you to do the same.
Here, there are no electronic scoreboards, no video screens updating you on the minute-by-minute action. You have to wait on scoreboard operators to change, by hand, the leaderboard. And you have to come to terms with the fear of missing out, because you will miss out: you’ll hear a loud cheer echoing through the pines from some distant corner of the course, and you’ll have no idea why. And somehow, you realize that you’re just fine with that.
The club has banks of phones scattered around the course for those who have a need to remain in contact with the unfortunate masses outside the gate. (Long distance calls are free. Text messaging and Facebook check-ins, alas, are not available.)
Mary Kathryn Florie of Atlanta, for instance, used one to call her mom before quickly returning to watch Wednesday’s practice round. Lee Tompkins of Perry, Ga. checked in with his office. “I’m busy at work,” he said, “but it’s nice to be here and not be bothered by the phone.”
There is one clear-and-present danger to Augusta’s keep-the-outside-world-out mantra, and it’s not a phone, it’s a watch. The Apple Watch, for instance, offers the potential to talk, text, and surf the web all on one’s wrist, and it’s perfectly permissible within the bounds of the club. (Augusta National told Yahoo Sports that smart watches are permitted at the Masters, but only to tell time.)
Sean Harrell of Augusta sported an Apple Watch while shopping for shirts. He noted that while his particular model couldn’t connect to the Internet, it would be an awfully tough temptation to resist if it could. “I think, out of respect for the club, I’d keep [the connection] off,” he said. Would everyone else? It’s a question the club likely will need to address sooner rather than later.
For the next few years, Augusta’s sanctified state of tech-free nirvana will persist. But what will happen when the tech-saturated kids of today become the badge-purchasing patrons of tomorrow? They’ll either learn to live in blessed silence … or Augusta National will surrender to pandemonium, the cacophony of chimes and whistles subsuming the ancient pines in a discordant— sorry, sorry, the verbiage got away from me again. Strange how your mind wanders when it’s not tethered to a phone, isn’t it?
Dan Wetzel contributed reporting for this article.
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