Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Augusta National vs. Technology

Masters week is finally upon us (!!!) and Augusta National has me a little confused.

We all know that Augusta is as private as private gets in the golf world.

Which is why I was surprised when I first learned that they had agreed to open their course to EA Sports this year.  Anyone can now see and learn every nook and cranny of the course from their living room couch. 

This is the place that doesn’t like showing their front nine on television during the tournament, after all.

I was further surprised that Augusta would attach their highly-protected name/brand to Tiger Woods in the form of the game’s title: “Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12: The Masters.” 

It seems, almost, risky.

And, it’s not like they’re doing this for money.  This is the club, after all, that dismissed its tournament sponsors (and thus commercials) to de-leverage attacks from women’s advocacy groups.

On top of providing this virtual experience, Augusta announced that they would provide comprehensive tournament coverage this year that includes an iPad app (which I’m buying) and a 3-D channel.  Whoa!

"Looks like they're joining the 21st Century," I thought.  I'm impressed, I think.  Golf fans now have an opportunity to thoroughly experience and enjoy one of their beloved game's most sacred places. 

Then, a couple of weeks after the game’s release, Ian Pouler and Graeme McDowell used their Twitter skills to post videos of the drive up Magnolia Lane and the view from the clubhouse.  Augusta was not amused and firmly reminded everyone of its “no phone” policy for players. 

Wait – what?  I can understand their no-phone policy for spectators, and to a degree for members too, but PGA Tour players?  What if they need to call their wife/kid or check an important email from their swing coach?  They’re on the job, after all, unlike everyone else who is trying to escape the job.

I found the dichotomy of these events interesting.  Confusing. 

Then, yesterday, it came to a head.  I saw a headline on ESPN about Anthony Kim being told that he couldn’t listen to his iPod on the range.  I thought – “Wow, the club that is embracing technology themselves is still enforcing anti-technology rules that mess with players’ practice routines.  How hypocritical – this is their livelihood!”

Then, Anthony Kim smacked clarity directly in my face.  

He concluded his iPod story by saying – “it’s those little things that make it a lot more special than other tournaments.”

Bam!  Confusion gone. 

Augusta may be open to giving those of us at home cool ways of experiencing their club through video games, 3-D TV and so on.  But, if you’re ever fortunate enough to walk through their gates, you are their guests and you follow their rules.

THIS is what makes the Masters “a tradition unlike any other.”  Thank you for the reminder, Mr. Kim.  Suddenly, all of the pics that are still showing up on Twitter seem almost tainted … disrespectful.

Augusta may have rules/policies that are strict and old-school, but that’s why it’s great.  For four days every year, it uses technology to transport golf fans like me back in time to a pre-tech world that doesn’t much exist anymore … when privacy was treasured, respect was assumed and tradition was valued.

In that context, Augusta’s strategy and execution seem, well, brilliant.

With that, I hope everyone has a wonderful Masters week.  My pick, as always, is Davis Love III.