Saturday, May 25, 2024

Inside the Masters bubble: No phones, no news, an escape from reality | CNN

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Augusta National
CNN
 — 

A ticket to the Masters, known as a badge, is one of the most elusive items in all of sports. But those who are lucky enough to procure one know that it provides more than just access to one of golf’s most hallowed grounds, it is also an invitation to leave the troubles of the world behind.

The use of cell phones is strictly prohibited on the property of Augusta National, meaning that patrons – fans at the Masters – quickly become oblivious to outside events.

“It’s almost as if you’re hiking up into the high altitude of the mountains, where there’s no cell service,” Mike Rawl told CNN after his fourth year at the major.

“That’s the only way to check out. Or you come to the Masters.”

During these times of heightened international tensions, that makes Augusta National feel like one of the most isolated places on earth.

Amongst the luscious dogwoods and azaleas on Saturday, few people – if any – would have been discussing Iran’s unprecedented attack on Israel, because they would likely have been totally unaware of it.

Louisa Cranford has been attending the Masters for 13 years and, as a millennial, she admits to using her phone four to five hours a day.

Upon learning about the news after leaving the course, she and her friend described their reaction as “shellshock.”

“We didn’t know about that until we got back last night,” Cranford said. “It was wild, because you don’t have any alerts out there, nobody knows, nobody is talking about it.

“You feel protected. The focus is completely on the game, there is no discussion of world events, everybody is present.”

It’s a unique position to be in. If golf fans watching Saturday’s live broadcast on television in the US didn’t already know about the attack from pinging alerts on their phones, the coverage was in any event interrupted by CBS for a breaking newsflash.

Augusta National is proud of its traditions and it fights hard to preserve them. In 2017, the club’s previous chairman Billy Payne defended the cell phone policy.

“I just don’t think it is appropriate,” he said. “The noise is an irritation to not only the players. The dialing, the conversation – it’s a distraction.”

Two years later, his successor Fred Ridley added that Augusta’s patrons appreciate the phone ban, saying, “I don’t believe that’s a policy that anyone should expect is going to change in the near future, if ever.”

The Masters is famous for its traditions.

If anybody visiting Augusta needs to call home, they are encouraged to do so via the banks of courtesy phones that are located throughout the golf course.

The call is even free of charge, to anywhere in the world. Getting information through from the outside, however, is a much more challenging prospect.

The world’s top player Scottie Scheffler lifted his second Masters title Sunday, having competed whilst his pregnant wife, Meredith, was at home.

Their first child is due within the next couple of weeks, and he explained mid-tournament to the media that he wouldn’t hesitate to withdraw from the tournament if necessary.

“I definitely have a way to get home pretty quickly,” the American said. “We have somebody here that has access to their cell phone, if that’s all right.”

His sideways nod to the Augusta member seated next to him revealed a tacit understanding that the cell phone rules don’t just apply to the patrons.

Patrons cheer as Scottie Scheffler and his caddie, Ted Scott, celebrate on the 18th green after winning the Masters.

It’s hard to make an argument against Augusta’s restrictive cell phone policies. Photos of every other sports event these days often reveal many fans watching through the screens of their phones as they record the action.

But there is probably a psychological benefit to the enforced disconnection, too. Mental health advocates agree that addiction to our phones is detrimental to our health.

“Their omnipresence can lead to compulsive use and a sense of dependency,” says Columbia University’s Department of Psychiatry.

“The constant stream of notifications and updates can create a sense of urgency and a fear of missing out, leading to increased anxiety and stress.”

On Thursday morning, the infamous American football star O.J. Simpson passed away. News of his death broke just as the tournament was beginning, but the patrons that CNN encountered on the course were totally oblivious to a happening that was being reported around the world.

Most wouldn’t have known until they’d returned to their cars and powered up their phones on the drive past Hooters and McDonalds on Washington Road.

Augusta National Golf Club feels like it’s in a world of its own, a retreat from the stresses, strains and ugliness outside. You’re unlikely to hear heated debates about Joe Biden or Donald Trump around the 18th green. Augusta seems able to captivate everybody.

“It’s OK to be disconnected, it feels good to be disconnected,” said Rachelle Rawl to CNN.

Another patron, Bob Nesbit, who’s been coming to The Masters for 50 years, shared the perspective of a friend who had visited earlier in the week.

“For her, the liberation of being without a cell phone was absolutely spectacular,” he said.

“She just marveled at the fact she’d been without a phone and out of contact for three hours. That was wonderful.”

The world may be troubled, but for just a few hours on a Masters weekend, those troubles feel like a world away.

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