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As the golf world prepares to focus on what will surely be dramatic events at Celtic Manor's Twenty Ten course, the game's authorities seem determined to keep the sport in the 20th century

So at last Celtic Manor is about to get its day in the sun. Well, we can hope for sun, although the weather in South Wales in early October is not renowned for depleting supplies of the Factor 50. A bigger fear might reasonably be about the likelihood of heavy rain or, perhaps worse, low-lying mist that would render completing the Ryder Cup on schedule – or at least in time for Sky Sports to concentrate fully on Chelsea versus Arsenal in the Premier League – particularly problematic. But that's enough pessimism. The occasion should be a Super Sunday indeed.

Peter Mandelson
Peter Mandelson's grip on a golf club in 1998 was just about as much of a problem as holding on to power proved to be in 2010

Unlike his position when he posed for this picture at Celtic Manor, Peter Mandelson no longer has a strangled two-handed grip on power. This photo was taken in the early days of New Labour, when work on the renovation and upgrading of the course was recently underway, and Mandy rolled up to help with the celebrations if not the excavations. As events transpired, he fell just a few months short of getting to see the project reach its apogee from the ermine-lined comfort of office.

In truth, golf and politics make for uneasy bedfellows. Personal integrity is the bedrock upon which the game is built. As Mark Lawson pointed out in the Guardian, the scale of duplicity in government revealed by Mandy's memoirs, The Third Man, means that those critical of interviewers who seem to take the default position towards politicians of “Why is this bastard lying to me?” might now think the Jeremy Paxmans of this world aren't being cynical enough.

Golf also has an uneasy realtionship with at least some aspects of modern technology. Take mobile phones – although it's best not to if you're planning to go to the Ryder Cup this October.

It was at the K Club four years ago that spectators were first prohibited from having mobiles on the course at a Ryder Cup in Europe. The reason was obvious – golfers don't like to be disturbed by the trilling of assorted ring tones when they're competing in a golf tournament, and golf tournaments don't come very much bigger than the Ryder Cup. And the downsides?

Well, it's not difficult to figure out where to start. The problem is where to finish. For example, at the K Club, the people who did (foolishly or unknowingly) take mobiles were required to leave them at a pick-up point before they were admitted, to be reunited with them on their way out. Among the inconveniences of this was that the collection centres closed before play had finished. Ergo, not only couldn't you liaise with friends elsewhere on the course, you couldn't watch a full day's golf.

I think it's unfortunate that the R&A has since decided to follow suit in respect of the Open Championship. In effect, golf's authorities are saying to the general public that they don't trust them to use their mobiles in silent mode. And by general public, I mean just that. The media can use mobiles, in restricted areas, as can relatives of golfers, their managers and sundry hangers-on. Put another way, if you've actually paid for a ticket to watch the golf, you're treated as a lower form of life.

The solution seems obvious. If your ring tone goes off and might disturb play, you would be liable to be barred from the course for the day. Keep your phone in silent mode, and only speak in an area where your voice cannot be heard by the golfers, and you'll be left free to arrange where to meet your mates for lunch.

Peter Jacobsen, the former American Ryder Cup player, said recently: “We spend enough time making sure the fans accommodate the players. I'd rather we make sure we do everything we can to accommodate our fans.”

And hope may be at hand. Jim Hyler, president of the United States Golf Association, told Golf World magazine in the States: “We want people to come to our events, and the way the world is wired now, having access to their hand-helds is very important to people.”

If the USGA is capable of living in the modern world, so should the European Tour and the R&A. I would suggest that the former organisation would never try to prohibit spectators taking mobiles to one of its tournaments in the Far East; well, assuming it wanted anyone to attend. And for this year's Open, the R&A produced a mobile application for people to follow the progress of the championship. Very handy it was, too - unless you were at St Andrews, in which case you weren't allowed to access it.

As Mandy (and his pal Tony) might have said, surely it's time to move on.

September 2010

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine


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