The Wall Street Journal's Daniel Henninger pieces together many beautiful sentences in somehow relating the no cell phone policy at Winged Foot (except for the USGA President's PDA), no cargo pants at Congressional and other "traditions" that show golf is above the sins of other sports and politics.
It's just a game. But a game that defines the conditions of its experience with words like "fairway" and "rough" may have something useful to tell the wider world in a time when tradition seems old hat.
We might agree, for instance, that a sense of personal honor, at the most basic level, appears to be an eroding tradition. Enron, Abramoff, Bonds are words that define a new, at-the-edge world of business, politics and sport. Baseball almost surely will admit into Cooperstown several users of steroids because, as any lawyer will tell you, there was no formal rule against it at the time.
Golf, unlike most everything else, is by and large scandal-free.
The Open at Winged Foot last week enforced, with metal detectors, a rule of nearly unimaginable harshness: no cell phones anywhere. "That is a rule which is almost universal in golf at traditional clubs," says Robert Trent Jones Jr., the golf-course architect. "You are out of touch while you are on the property so you come into touch with the game of golf, its friendships, yourself and nature."
And the inevitable technology stuff. I'm not really sure what he was going for, but I suspect it messed up the theme and that's why he brushed right over it.
Of course change comes to golf. Technology can't be capped. Course layouts adjust. Fear persists that the USGA will cave in to the promoters -- the "Taco Bell Shinnecock Open"? Winged Foot's members rolled their eyes at the 36,000-square-foot merchandise tent atop their driving range (not the one Mr. Mickelson hit).
Change in golf is similar to the Founding Fathers' view of new constitutional amendments; it is supposed to be hard, to keep the silliness out. "New ideas have to pass the test of the traditionalists," says Mr. Jones, the architect.
And when change comes, what was left behind remains in memory. "I miss some of the old sounds," says Kevin O'Brien, a member at Congressional. "The sound of metal spikes on pavement or the sound that a good persimmon driver made."
Golf is a 500-year-old institution. In the U.S. it has 25 million adherents. It is vital not in spite of its traditions but because it refuses to abandon them. Tradition is its wellspring. Other institutions, under great pressure these days, might take note.
Yes, like the USGA for starters!