Last Thursday through Sunday were perhaps the four quietest days of Jim Harbaugh’s life. As a competitor in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, he wasn’t allowed to scream, shout or otherwise contort his head for a good 96 hours, which most of us in the Bay Area see as uncharted territory. And if Jim Harbaugh keeps calm, who has the right to do otherwise?
But in their enforcement of the PGA’s spectator-camera ban, some of the security guards at Pebble weren’t quite as laid back as the former Cardinal coach. They were in full force at the event for the second year in a row, scanning galleries and grandstands for upright iPhones whose owners would need to be scolded. (I almost had mine confiscated last year.)
As I wrote last year, the pro-am at Pebble isn’t like any other PGA event. To quote myself, celebrity contestants bring “levity to a sport that most non-players see as too drawn-out, too uneventful and too pretentious,” creating a fan atmosphere that is otherwise absent from the world of golf. That’s what makes it memorable.
And in today’s world, memories often count for a whole lot more if they’re saved on a camera phone. For example, fans who paid $100 for a seat at the Rose Parade seemed perfectly content watching it through an iPhone screen. I was as guilty of this as anyone, and I have photos of just about every float to prove it.
IHUM doesn’t exist anymore, so I’m not going to get into the societal implications of our obsession with the camera app. But I know I’m not the only one who would have loved to capture former Cal star Aaron Rodgers fouling a drive into the ocean or everybody’s favorite Kung-Fu Panda fodder, Justin Verlander, shooting from one bunker to the next. We’ll have to rely on our brains alone to remember Huey “Some of my Lies are True” Lewis hitting a great tee shot to the par-three fifth green and tennis star Andy Roddick tossing a football with Rodgers on the historic 18th fairway.
If the whole appeal of the event is to allow the celebrities—who are more than willing to sign autographs and pose for pictures in between shots—to interact with fans, it shouldn’t be an offense for spectators to capture the moment.
At the same time, the PGA can’t turn its back on the professional golfers who participate in the event for its $6.5-million purse, $1,152,000 first prize and 500 FedEx Cup Points. And it’s hard to blame the PGA for its harsh restrictions on cameras. Golf is a difficult enough sport without shutters, flashes and weird, digitized noises going off all over the place.
The tournament’s 2012 winner, Phil Mickelson, is one of the Tour’s most outspoken opponents of camera phones at events. Some players are already less than pleased with the tournament at Pebble Beach; Tiger Woods took nearly a decade off from the event because of its “celebrity-driven crowds” before making a one-time reappearance in 2012. (He missed it again this year.) Lose the camera restrictions and you probably lose the players, making the nation’s premiere pro-am event just a celebrity tournament. At a course that embarrasses all but the best golfers in the world, that would be disastrous for the event’s appeal.
Two very different cultures are juxtaposed at Pebble: the highbrow, genteel world of golf and the impatient, needy world of the modern sports fan. When they clash, the latter usually wins.
There’s a reason that the only two golf films to ever make it big with the American public, “Caddyshack” and “Happy Gilmore,” put puns ahead of putting and hilarity ahead of holes-in-one. As a professional sport, golf doesn’t really lend itself to that, but it has to make some compromises if it wants to keep fans involved.
So adapt or die, PGA. End the camera ban for all events and leave the players with no other choice than to deal with it. Take a message from one of your own golfers, D.A. Points, who won the 2011 title at Pebble while partnering with Murray and his unquenchable thirst for distracting his partners by joking with the crowd. Points spoke of how Murray’s often-unappreciated antics helped “loosen me up” and added that “the crowd was having a lot more fun than the crowd at Augusta,”—the site of The Masters.
Even though golf revenues come from television rights more than admission fees, without the crowd there would be no tournament. Golfers have already learned to live with blowing winds and chirping birds, and it’s time to add camera shutters to that list—even the weird, digitized ones.
If professional golfers can’t handle that, maybe it’s time we set Jim Harbaugh lose on them. Besides, he’s been holding it in.
Joseph Beyda is currently taking private lessons from Jim Harbaugh on throwing temper tantrums, spitting as much as possible when talking and giving the media the cold shoulder. Persuade him not to go down Harbaugh’s path of insanity at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @DailyJBeyda.