Remembering a time when mobile phones didn't spoil a round of golf

The Scoop

Email, WhatsApp, social media. Repeat to fade. Mark Townsend harks back to the golden days when mobile phones weren't such a prominent part of our beautiful game

I resisted the urge to get a mobile phone longer than any of my friends. It was maybe in 2002 that I finally relented and in those days there wasn’t much to do other than make a phone call, send a time-consuming text or, if you really haven’t got much going on in your life, have a game of Snake.

These days you can seemingly do anything on your phone which, presumably, is why all of us are never more than 18 inches from our ‘device’.

A one-time colleague – he’s not dead, he just got a different job – once singled out another colleague as being the most content person in the office as he kept his phone in his pocket. A quick glance round then confirmed everybody’s best friend to be in the territory of where your mouse once was.

A small vibration here or a notification there and it could be in your sweaty palm in a millisecond. Even when there is no alert you can’t help but scratch the itch by picking it up and scrolling to the next screen where, again, nothing else new is going on.

It is the modern-day equivalent of ringing 1471 on a loop when you know your soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend hasn’t returned your calls.

For many of us it is now in the realms of an illness.

Mobile phones

And then, hallelujah, a small ping! Someone wants a small slice of me which is soon followed by the crushing disappointment that someone you had mindlessly connected with on LinkedIn a week ago has mindlessly accepted and this will be the only time that your paths will ever cross.

Another good equation, this time my own but hopefully one that is shared by anyone with half a brain and a modicum of self-awareness, is golf + phone = a shambles of a round.

I played in a recent day where four people, all under the age of 30, were walking off a tee 15 yards apart with their heads buried in their mobiles. No chat, no laughter, no nothing other than, presumably, the Unholy Trinity of email, WhatsApp and social media.

It made me feel quite sad. And quite happy at the same time that I grew up in a period when conversations may not have been actively encouraged but always took place. A time where your first instinct was to ask your playing partners a question or open up a bit or just take the piss rather than instinctively getting your phone out.

In a fourball there is nothing quite as sapping, chat wise, as one person waiting for some football scores to load, then reading them out, then trying to give some perspective on the latest scores, then checking the live table and then being asked to check if Newcastle’s new Lithuanian striker got an assist.

Then some lone wolf breaks away from the pack to do his own thing – email, WhatsApp, social – and is lost to the group for the next five minutes.

My one-time foursomes partner is half my age and therefore cannot leave his phone alone for more than a couple of minutes. A particularly successful run all the way to the final in 2014 was blighted by his Tinder activity and subsequent messaging of some poor unfortunates within a 10-mile radius of his home. By the time the final came around he had doubled that to 20 as he had exhausted every avenue of any girl aged 21-30.

I would play the role of an irritated parent, while also being gracious enough to help him in his decision making, while he grew ever more distant and anxious as his attempts to reach out to Jess, 22, from Harrogate drew a blank.

Things came to a head in the quarter-final when only one extra hole was possible. We were losing the light with every step, playing partners were dispatched halfway down the hole to try and catch sight of our tee shots, nerve ends were pushed to their limit and, just as I took one last look down the ever-darkening fairway, a little light popped up as Tinder clicked back into action.

Possibly even more depressing are my own failed attempts not to look at my phone when out on the course. I will check every few holes to make sure things are OK with small children at home. Here I content myself that I am a good parent, but that doesn’t really excuse the need to constantly refresh the Challenge Tour scores from Belgium.

And, before we know it, we are stuck in this vortex of nonsense.

Email, WhatsApp, social. Email, WhatsApp, social. Email, WhatsApp, social. Email, WhatsApp, social. Email, WhatsApp, social. Repeat to fade.

Mobile phones

When I have finally untangled myself from some awful exchange on email – refresh for the next three holes to be rewarded with an ‘OK’ – I then throw myself into an even more dreadful bit of ‘bants’ with various WhatsApp groups. Collections I have managed to keep out of for the past fortnight but am now part of just because I am a bit bored. And needy.

And so to Twitter and Facebook and ‘Insta’ and a general merry-go-round of the same old, same olds.

And then, 10 minutes later, do it all again to see if things have moved on. And, after being a good boy, and leaving my phone in my bag for a whole hole, once more with feeling. I’ll maybe even like a photo of a friend’s child.

Or I’ll open Google Maps for a check on a drive in three weeks’ time, check my Stepz to see if I can get up to 10,000, and what’s the weather like in Ibiza? I’m not going, I’m just wondering.

Then my phone rings. It’s an unknown number, so I turn it off and put it away.

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