Jezz Ellwood: IS ETIQUETTE ONLY FOR PAST MASTERS?

Golf Monthly Contributing Editor Jezz Ellwood gives his insight into the principles of sporting etiquette in the modern day. 

It would be fair to say that, as a wordsmith, my mind often overly busies itself with wordplay, as my Golf Monthly colleagues will willingly testify. As an example - brand names. I have always thought that on the unlikely off chance that I should ever move to Torquay and set up a dog-walking business, I would have no choice but to call it Walkie Torquay… or would it be Worquay Torquay? Which is why I should perhaps just stick to writing about golf, and leave it to the likesof Etiqus founder, Gary Butler to come up with the perfect names for their brands.

Around Masters time last year, he revealed in his blog, ‘What’s in a name’ just how the Etiqus brand name came about. It is, he explained, a shortened version of an imaginary word ‘etiquette-ous’ that would convey the notion of being ‘full of the qualities of etiquette’ were it to exist. Etiquette is, of course, the code – both written and unwritten - around which the game of golf has revolved for many years.

At Augusta National, etiquette’s demands are as incumbent on those who come to watch as they are on those who come to compete, more of which in a moment when we reflect on the standards that Bobby Jones, co-creator of the Masters, expected of all those attending the season’s first Major. I feel privileged to be able to count myself among that number just once… as a journalist, not a competitor, I hasten to add.

It was in the 1925 US Open that Jones uttered the immortal words, “You might as well praise me for not robbing banks,” when sports writers fell over themselves to praise him for calling a penalty on himself that would ultimately cost him the title in regulation play. He went on to lose in a play-off, and of course, Jones’ words were intended to convey his dismay at being deemed worthy of praise simply for doing the right thing.

Such scenarios arise in many sports, not just among golfers calling self-policing penalties on themselves. I recall that the title of one particular college essay I was required to write in my Sports Studies degree twenty-odd years ago was: “Sportsmanship: will-o’-the-wisp in the late 20th century?” I remember it really made me think, as snooker was a major TV sport back then, and players were regularly being applauded for owning up to sleeves brushing against balls. “Praise for not robbing banks,” once more.

A number of sports have become embroiled in the ‘spirit of the game versus win at all costs’ debate. In football, the Premier League is awash with deliberate divers intent on gaining an advantage for their team via deceitful means. Performance-enhancing drugs are rife in other sports, while cricketers who know they’ve nicked the ball face a dilemma between walking, even if the umpire hasn’t given it, or staying at the crease for the seeming good of the team. Without getting too deep into the latter debate, if Bobby Jones had been a cricketer, it wouldn’t even have entered his mind not to walk!

Here, in full, is what Jones had to say in 1967 about the standards he expected from players and ‘patrons’ – never ‘fans’ or ‘spectators’ - attending his revered annual tournament at Augusta: "In golf, customs of etiquette and decorum are just as important as rules governing play. It is appropriate for spectators to applaud successful strokes in proportion to difficulty but excessive demonstrations by a player or his partisans are not proper because of the possible effect upon other competitors. Most distressing to those who love the game of golf is the applauding or cheering of misplays or misfortunes of a player. Such occurrences have been rare at the Masters but we must eliminate them entirely if our patrons are to continue to merit their reputation as the most knowledgeable and considerate in the world."

When I made my one and only visit to Augusta in 2004 – the year Phil Mickelson’s late grandfather nudged Lefty’s final putt in from above to bypass a play-off with Ernie Els – I already knew there were many things patrons couldn’t do. You couldn’t run or lie down on the grass; you couldn’t take periscopes, ladders, chairs with arms or any kind of bag bigger than a very modest ‘man bag’ on to the course; and you certainly couldn’t take cameras, mobiles or electronic devices out, other than cameras on practice days.

It was this latter edict that I nearly fell foul of, for although iPads were still some way from being invented, I did make the mistake of taking my dictaphone out on a practice day with the innocent intention of making some verbal notes to type up later. But, of course, if you’re one of the famous Pinkerton Guards, trained to sniff out any misdemeanor at 100 paces, and you spot a man standing under a tree talking into a mobile phone-sized device, you're going to automatically assume illicit use of a phone.

I have to say that I never really found out for sure whether such a device did infringe Augusta National’s rules, but what I did know was that sometimes people had been evicted from the premises for even innocent, unknowing transgressions. So all I can say is a big thank you to the generous-spirited Pinkerton who realised it wasn’t a phone and let me off with a “don’t bring it out on the course again” warning.

In this day and age, nobody likes being told what to do, do they? In our own minds, we are all free agents, at liberty to do what we like, when we like. But does that make the world a better place? Without wishing to sound like a grumpy old man to the ears of the younger generation, who probably can’t even contemplate the horror of being parted from their mobile phone for more than five minutes, I would say, no it doesn’t.

In fact, a world where everyone is free to do just as they please is potentially an unpleasant and dangerous place. Jones knew that, which was why he was so keen to ensure that the principles of respect, integrity and courtesy remained at the very heart of his beloved tournament. All of us, young and old, would do well to remember that the world is a better place when we put the welfare and interests of others ahead of our own.

Wow! I never set out to get quite this heavy, but it has made me appreciate anew that the etiquette of which we golfers so often speak, and which inspired the Etiqus brand name, is something worth clinging on to for the common good.

When Gary first came to show us his ‘pace of play’ watch at Golf Monthly, I do remember wondering what it might end up being called should it ever make it beyond the concept stage. Now that it is very much up and running, I’m not sure he could have come up with a better name than ETIQUS, which seems such a perfect fit in every regard.

Jezz Ellwood – Contributing Editor, Golf Monthly