Hate to be Rude: Can you hear me now?

A sign asking for fans to silence their cell phones next to the 15th tee during the 2010 Wyndham Championship.

A sign asking for fans to silence their cell phones next to the 15th tee during the 2010 Wyndham Championship.

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At various times during the past couple of years, I have asked friends and strangers who appear addicted to their cellular telephones, “How long could you cope if we took that thing away from you?”

The basic answer always was the same: Not very long.

A few minutes ago, I asked a 23-year-old journalist in the Golfweek office what he’s more attached to: His wallet or his cell phone. After mulling several seconds, my Generation Y Echo Boomer pal surprised by saying, “My cell phone.”

Checking another demographic, I just asked a longtime business executive around 50 the same question. He also thought for several seconds. Then he gave the same surprising answer: “My cell phone.”

I’m not sure how they are going to rent a car, get on an airplane, check into a hotel or pick up a dinner tab with a cell phone instead of a wallet. But they helped make a point: Cell phones have become as much a part of people as their money clips and purses.

Given that, it is heartening that golf fans now will be able to bring cell phones to PGA Tour events starting at the March 3-6 Honda Classic.

That’s right. Welcome to the 21st century.

This might be the most significant development on Tour this year, non-competition category anyway.

Tour crowds just got bigger and happier and much more connected.  Now they need to make sure they behave and don’t disrupt play and don’t ruin it for everybody.

“The Tour recognizes cell phones are a very important part of everyday life,” said Andy Pazdur, Tour executive vice president and chief of operations. “We feel allowing mobile devices at Tour events is a tremendous fan enhancement which allows our fans to stay in touch with their business and  family.”

The Tour changed its no-cell-phone policy after allowing mobile devices at five test tournaments during the past six months – events sponsored by Wyndham, Frys.com and Chevron last year and Farmers Insurance and AT&T recently. The Tour wanted to see if players would be bothered, and it determined the phones were not a problem.

Fans will be required to keep their phones on silent mode, though they will have several designated areas away from play, including concession stands, at which to make calls. Checking and sending e-mail and text messages will be allowed away from play.

If you are someone who goes to Tour events, here are perhaps the two most important words you need to remember regarding tournament rounds, besides perhaps “ringer off”:

No photographs.

You want to take pictures, click away all you want on Monday-Wednesday (though commercial use is prohibited). And never click on Thursday-Sunday.

The new policy has turned the entire gallery into potential paparazzi. The main issues at the five test events involved cameras on phones. When some people took photos at dusk, flashes were a problem.

“We anticipated right from the start that our biggest problem would be the use of the camera function,” Pazder said.

Violators of the cell rules will be warned or have their phones confiscated in exchange for a claim check. In extreme cases, spectators could be removed from the tournament.

“We will maintain a zero-tolerance policy toward disruptive use,” Pazder said. 

Allowance of phones applies only to PGA Tour events – not to the four major championships. So if you somehow manage to talk up a storm on your phone at Amen Corner, I’m thinking it will be your last Masters.

The Tour wisely is in the process of educating fans on the do’s and don’ts. It found that schooling spectators before and during tournaments “greatly reduced problems,” Pazder said. “Last week at Pebble Beach, it basically eliminated any issue.”

Three men who ran test events said they experienced few issues and no disruption of play. Each applauded the Tour’s new policy.   

“I was never too much afraid of it,” said Wyndham tournament director Mark Brazil, whose August event was the first test. “But when Arjun Atwal had a 7-footer to win on last hole, I thought, ‘Oh, no. Not now!’ It definitely crossed my mind.

“But this is a great step for the Tour and the fans. We need to do everything we can to get people to come out and make sure they have an enjoyable experience and can stay in touch with their world.”

Brazil said about 20 phones were confiscated during Wyndham week. That’s a far cry from the estimated 2,000-plus cell phones that were confiscated and checked in at 2007 AT&T National entrances.

Greg McLaughlin is the tournament director there. He also runs the Chevron World Challenge, a test event in December. He reported  “minimal problems” and said no phones were confiscated.

The only issues last fall at the Frys.com Open in San Martin, Calif., related to camera flashes at dusk two days, tournament president Duke Butler said.

“It is tremendous that the Tour is demonstrating progressive thinking for business and family people trying to stay in touch with the outside world,” Butler said. “It’s a no-brainer – especially here because Silicon Valley executives go nowhere without their smart phones.”

Butler anticipates the next progression will involve fans being able to watch telecasts on their phones.

But first things first. Let’s get through this initiation first. As much as I love it, I do know this: Some disruption of play is going to happen. A ring at the wrong time. A click. A something that the news media will end up writing and talking about.

Let’s just hope it doesn’t happen when Tiger Woods is in the middle of an important shot – and Steve Williams already is in a bad mood.

• • •

Jeff Rude’s “I Hate To Be Rude” column appears on Golfweek.com on Wednesday, the same day as his video show of the same name.

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