PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. - The U.S. Open golf tournament will be played here next month with great fanfare. But looking at the onerous list of regulations for spectators, there is legitimate question about whether this grand event is at all fan fair.
Here is partial list of long-standing prohibitions for all paying ticket holders: no cameras; no cell phones; no PDAs or portable email devices; no signs or posters; no food or beverages; no radios; no MP3 players; no folding chairs, no bags larger than eight inches in any dimension.
This is a sporting event? The rules are less draconian at Carnegie Hall. None of these restrictions - with the possible exception of the folding chair rule - applies at a Major League baseball game. Baseball fans, like those attending other pro sports, seem to enjoy taking pictures, texting, and listening to play-by-play on radio. Many even bring their own lunch, due in part to tough economic times.
Fans also like autographs. However, printed on every U.S. Open ticket is this warning: "Approaching a player for an autograph is prohibited." This remarkably hostile admonition covers not only times when players are competing but also when they are practicing and walking to the tee.
Players in other sports have no problem ignoring autograph requests when they become intrusive, yet willingly sign when it seems appropriate. The truth is many pro golfers would be happy to give autographs, and some will at the U.S. Open despite the prohibition. But players and fans are hostage to the increasingly arrogant demands of a few influential pros and the misguided edicts of management and sponsors.
One thing is certain, the issue is not security. The list of prohibited items appropriately includes "weapons," and all fans will be made to pass through security checkpoints - just as they are nowadays at most sporting events. But while it's possible that terrorists could someday invent a ham sandwich bomb, it's not reasonable to respond to such fears with a total ban.
The real culprits in this case are players and organizers who believe a homemade sign ("We love you, Phil"), or the click of a camera (most digital cameras don't even make clicking sounds), will distract golfers and disrupt play. Remember, this sport already has uniformed marshals raising their arms and calling for complete silence every time a ball is about to be hit.
Much of what's good and bad about the modern game can be linked to Tiger Woods. Woods expanded the audience for golf, both in sheer numbers as well as in the type of fan attracted to the sport. And it's been Tiger and caddie Steve Williams who have been most aggressive in dealing with annoying onlookers. At an event in 2002 Williams tossed a spectator's camera into a pond; at the '04 Open Williams kicked a camera belonging to a professional photographer.
But to forbid fans to carry cameras except during pre-tournament practice rounds, at Pebble Beach of all places with its many acres of spectacular scenery, is both unwise and unfair. Many sports fans, myself included, count as valuable souvenirs the snapshots taken at sports venues - with my son at the baseball All-Star game, for example. How sad to spoil the U.S. Open for fans who might hope only to capture an image of the shoreline to show friends and family, or to use a cell phone to call home from the refreshment stand.
Crude treatment of fans, although not new to the Open, becomes less defensible as golf struggles to maintain attendance and sponsor support during a weak economy, and at a time when the game's best player is under a self-created cloud. It's time for golf's hierarchy to revisit spectator policies.
In its literature, the United States Golf Association notes, "Unlike many sports, golf is played, for the most part, without the supervision of a referee or umpire. The game relies on the integrity of the individual to show consideration."
Clearly that policy doesn't apply to fans, who travel great distances, pay high ticket prices and have their own integrity, yet must endure the most closely umpired spectator regulations in all of sports.
Peter Funt may be reached at www.candidcamera.com.
©2010 Peter Funt. This column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons, Inc. newspaper syndicate. For info call Cari Dawson Bartley at 800 696 7561 or e-mail [email protected].
Peter Funt is a writer and public speaker. He's also the long-time host of "Candid Camera." A collection of his DVDs is available at www.candidcamera.com.