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Tradition meets technology: Masters should embrace social media’s capabilities

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Several of my graduate students were giving me grief last week. I had announced there would be no class this week because I would be out of town.  They claim I said something like “I will be in a better place.”

The Masters Tournament is the said better place, the best sporting event in America.

The students said they swore they could hear the Masters theme song swell in the background and that my voice took on a Jim Nantz-like aura and inflection (“A tradition unlike any other,” as he would say).

We know graduate students can be a little dramatic at times.

But for all its tradition, history and lore, the Masters is not perfect, especially when it comes to social media.

In fact, the Masters may be – and it pains me to say this – the worst major sporting event when it comes to social media.

It’s an unintended consequence of the Masters electronic policy – you cannot bring any electronic device, including cell phones. Which means any and all tweets you will see from the tournament this week will come from inside the press center, or from someone watching television.

“My tweets are going to be few in number – and there is not going to be much I can wow people with,” said Roy Lang III, the assistant sports editor at the Shreveport Times.  Lang, who has covered most major championships and sent more than 7,000 tweets, said the policy “is a bit antiquated.”

The Masters’ limitations did not prevent Twitter from becoming a significant part of a story here Thursday.

For about an hour Thursday, there was a great mystery involving Luke Donald, the world’s top-ranked player. Donald three-putted the par 4 fifth for a bogey 5. But the Masters scoring system posted a 3 for that hole, and a 73 for the round.

Several reporters saw Donald’s three-putt and questioned his score. Masters officials announced “there are questions about his score” and that the competitions committee was looking into the matter.

The drama quickly spilled over onto Twitter, where reporters talked about seeing a faxed version of the scorecard – unverified – and claiming it showed a 3 on the fifth hole. Signing a scorecard with an incorrect lower score would result in a disqualification.

Just as Twitter fueled speculation about Donald’s status, Twitter quickly ended it when Donald’s wife, Diane Donald, tweeted that her husband had not made a mistake: “Just got off the phone with Luke, NOT disqualified. Thank goodness.”

A few minutes later, the official word came from Masters officials: Donald “signed for a correct score of 75, including a 5 on the fifth hole.  Due to an administrative error, a 73 was entered in the Masters scoring system. The error has been corrected.”

Donald’s coach, Patrick Goss, also tweeted on the subject: “Just talked to Luke. Scorecard was correct. Luke doesn’t make that mistake. Too diligent + detailed.”

Now, if someone had been able to tweet from the fifth hole, all of this would have been avoided.

My solution, which won’t happen anytime soon, is to allow reporters to use iPads on the course. Since they do not have phones, they cannot disturb play. Augusta National can even supply iPads with the camera and sound disabled, to make them literally a tweeting device.  There is a precedent for this: the Masters allows photographers to have cameras on the course when the patrons cannot bring cameras out on the course.

In the meantime, journalists will devise smart ways to work around the restrictions.

The Augusta Chronicle focuses on quality and content you cannot get anywhere to populate its Twitter feed. Every reporter who is out on the course and returns to the press center is encouraged to bring some content worth tweeting out, said Alan English, executive editor of the Chronicle.

“We tell our staff to focus on unique content, not score updates,” English said. “Twitter is part of everyone’s responsibility.”

It may be tweeting from a press center, but it is tweeting from the Masters press center. And everyone who is anyone in golf (other than me) is tweeting this week.

Best among them is Dan Jenkins, the legendary sports writer who now writes for Golf Digest. His tweets, performed this week literally with one of his arms in a sling, are alternately hilarious and insightful: “Stenson, who led all day, makes quad on 18 despite no penalty, no lost ball, no water, no bunker. I couldn’t do that with my arm in a sling.”

Ronnie Ramos is the managing director of digital communications for the NCAA. Before that, he spent 25 years as a newspaper reporter and editor, splitting his time between news and sports at five newspapers, including The Miami Herald and Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow him on Twitter.

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