The first round of the Masters Golf Tournament today at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia will be a step back in time. The spectators will be unusually quiet and particularly observant. If you don’t know why, you could probably watch this event for a while before figuring out what was different. For the spectators, there will be literally nothing to do but watch golf. Suddenly, they will be observing everything — the conversations between golfer and caddie, the long walk through the course, the down time of waiting for other players, the discussion over choosing a club, the laughter of someone cracking a joke, the color of the sky, the breeze in their faces, the whispers of those around them … I could go on and on about details formerly missed, but not this time. I’m imagining the spectators (they call them “patrons” at this event) standing with arms folded, or hands in their pockets or at their sides — a little awkward over not knowing what to do with themselves. What is different? What am I talking about that makes these obvious things so unique? Simple. No cellphones. No cellphones are allowed on the course.
I am not a big fan of golf. I don’t follow it except to catch the headlines now and then or stop to watch for a few minutes in a restaurant or an airport. I’ve played enough of it to know the beauty of walking a well-manicured course, the joy of unleashing a fine shot onto the green, or the frustration off not being able to do what’s in your mind to do — the latter being the most common of my golf experiences. And yet, even imagining a crowd of spectators with nothing in their hands, and nothing to do but watch, is a lesson in observation we can all learn from.
Think of these very same spectators with cellphones in their hands, staring down at them, their fingers pecking out a message, or holding them up in front of their faces for a selfie, or a picture or video of a golfer taking a shot. One golfer says it’s like a wall of cellphones pointed at them. Imagine people spending more time capturing this event than experiencing it, and you have a picture of the way the cellphone has changed how we experience things. Getting it down second hand has in some cases superseded taking it all in the first time.
In 1970, my second summer out of college, I took a 3-month trip by myself through Europe and South Africa. At one point I was without my camera and wanting to capture an incredible view of Florence, Italy from an art museum atop a hill on the edge of town. Instead off kicking myself for leaving my camera behind, I decided to take in the scene with my memory, and I sat there for well over an hour trying to
burn the picture into my mind. Well, it worked. And now, 48 years later, I can still pull that picture up — the flesh colored houses with dark green shutters, the red tile roofs and cypress trees hugging the lanes, and towers all over town with turrets on top, and everything blending together as if it were a painting.
“You’ve got to stop, look up and look around you,” said one golf patron. Indeed, these days we have to be intentional about how we experience life. At Augusta, it took a rule to force people to be more naturally observant. Maybe we can do the same without the rule.
Look all around you and see what is real
Here what is true and be sure what you feel
Touch someone near you in love if you can
Give all you have and be part of God’s plan
– from the song “Look All Around You” by John Fischer