For a long time, I refused to own a cell phone. I hated those guys who tie up golf courses by talking at full volume to their secretary or their stockbroker when it’s their turn to hit, and I hated the thought of losing my ability to tell people, “Sorry, for the next four hours I’m going to be absolutely impossible to reach.” One of the great things about playing golf is that it takes up virtually your entire brain, and prevents you from thinking about the stuff that keeps you awake at night. A ringing cell phone breaks that spell—and not just for the phone’s owner but for everyone within earshot.
Well, I still hate all that, but, like everyone else in the world, I have a cool phone now, and I’ve discovered that it has a golf-related redeeming feature: When you use a cell phone to tell your wife that you may be just a teensy bit late for dinner with her parents, the Caller ID on the kitchen phone displays your cell number, not the name of the golf course you’re calling from. In exchange for surrendering one of the last remaining vestiges of your privacy, you gain the time you need to create and rehearse a more convincing explanation. Isn’t that all we can ask of technology? To incrementally improve our quality of life?
E-mail and the World Wide Web have made even deeper encroachments into personal privacy, but they, too, offer compensations to golfers. In the old days, arranging a game with friends could involve an hour or more of high-risk telephone use, during which all the participants were nakedly vulnerable to discovery by their wife, kids, or boss. Now, thanks to the Internet, you can handle it all quickly, silently, and privately—and you get in trouble only for the rounds you actually play, not for the rounds you were unsuccessful in setting up. The only guys in my circle who are problematic are Nick, whose wife, Mary Anne, handles the email for both of them, and Gene, who doesn’t have a computer. But, luckily, Mary Anne likes having Nick out of the house, and Gene always gets the word eventually—usually via telephone from Nick.