Dr. George Pirie was just drawing back his putter when it happened.
Pirie was one-down to Ben Tuthill, it was the 33rd hole in the finals of the 2000 Rhode Island State Amateur and Tuthill had already been conceded his short par putt on the par 5 15th hole at Triggs Memorial in Providence.
Pirie was about to square the match with a relatively simple, straight, uphill four-footer for birdie.
Just as he was about to stroke the ball toward the hole a cell phone, just a few feet behind Pirie, rang. He flinched, jabbed the putt and it skidded wide. Two holes later Tuthill, who played magnificently all week, was the champion.
It would be unfair to say that Pirie would have won the match had the phone not gone off, but the fact is it never should have happened and it tainted Tuthill’s well-earned victory.
Cell phones, established but still relatively new, had been going off with increasing frequency as the match progressed, as more people joined the crowd that was watching the competition.
Ironically RIGA Executive Director Joe Sprague Jr. (now the head of the Mass Golf Association) had whispered just moments earlier that he was going to ask people to please turn off their phones as soon as the hole was completed. Good idea, bad timing.
Cell phones or mobiles (as they are referred to in Europe) are a wonderful tool if utilized properly and responsibly and to some extent they should be allowed on the golf course. Nothing is black and white.
It’s nice to know that if somebody collapses on the back nine you have the ability to call for help, or if you witness some misbehavior you can contact the pro shop and have a ranger dispatched.
But there is nothing more annoying than trying to play a round of golf with somebody who is constantly talking to the office about an impending merger, or having it chirp every 15 minutes when your buddy’s wife keeps adding to the list of things she wants picked up on the way home.
I was playing in the Golf Writers of America tournament in South Carolina a few years back when a fellow competitor became so angry with another that he ripped the phone from the guy’s ear (this was before Bluetooth) and fired it into a nearby pond.
We had fallen almost two holes behind the group in front and it was all because this fool was constantly speaking with his secretary instead of playing when it was his turn.
To keep in line with the full disclosure that we at “NEGM” hold so dear, I will admit that I seldom venture onto the golf course without my cell phone stuck in my bag. I have it on vibrate and every couple of holes I might check it to see if anyone has tried to contact me. If they have and it’s important (picking up a loaf of bread does not qualify) then I’ll call them back after teeing off on a hole (never a par 3) and while walking toward my ball. The conversation will be very short and it will not interfere with either my game or anyone else’s.
I have been to clubs which post signs banning cell phones. Good idea perhaps but unrealistic. We are a people who ignore rules that are inconvenient.
We don’t come to a complete stop at stop signs, we speed up when traffic light turn yellow, we don’t turn on our car’s headlights when its raining and regard speed limits more as suggestions than the law.
We are not going to leave our cell phones in the car when we tee it up, but there is no excuse for having them go off in the middle of somebody’s backswing and if you do have to hold a bunch of conversations then perhaps you should have stayed in the office.
It’s long been said that some of the best business deals have been negotiated on the course. That’s great; just make sure that the person you’re doing business with is in your group, not San Francisco.
(Tim Geary is a Rhode Island based freelance writer. If you try to reach him while he is on the golf course don’t expect an answer for at least four hours)
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