PGA: On-Course Tweeting OK, Play-by-Play Tweets are Not

After last week’s Twitter brouhaha caused a lot of folks — including us — to call out the PGA Tour for its apparent heavyhanded threats, Tour officials have reached out to media to better explain its policy, which can be pretty much summed up as: No play-by-play real-time tweeting.

PGA Tour vice president Ty Votaw, who called us here at MSR headquarters Tuesday morning, said the policy isn’t new, even though I could swear I saw a bunch of unpenalized play-by-play tweeters during last year’s tournaments. What Votaw stressed throughout our short conversation was that the Tour loves having media tweet about tournaments — just as long as they don’t veer into real-time, shot-by-shot coverage.

“It’s OK to say ‘Tiger just made birdie’ or have some other description of what’s going on,” said Votaw. “We want people to tweet from tournaments. But you can’t go shot by shot and duplicate what’s on the scorecard. That’s compromising our broadcast partners and our own [PGA] digital platforms.”

Though the message sent by the Tour to prolific on-course tweeters like reporter Stephanie Wei seemed heavyhanded, Votaw said the prime target of the policy is to eliminate situations where media outlets may have people following the Tour’s own digital information streams, like its excellent Shot Link technology and Shot Tracker feature, and then siphoning that information into a Twitter stream or some other commercial digital output.

“Some outlets have interns in an office following ShotLink and tweeting from that source,” claimed Votaw, though he didn’t name any specific outlets doing such things. For the on-course reporters, the rules seem to be a bit hazy and subject to Tour judgement; Votaw, for example, said it’s OK to tweet something about a single player on every hole, but “if it’s more than one or two a hole, you’re pushing the edge.”

One thing we also saw a lot of last year (and enjoyed) was seeing Twitter-linked Instagram or other social-media photos taken by people we regard as “writers” who were using their cell phones to snap quick shots (usually scenic views from particular holes). According to Votaw, those picture-tweeters are also potentially in violation of their media credential agreement, unless they are registered as on-course photographers. Our guess on this matter is that it’s probably another judgement call, because like with the Twitter ban, it’s a complete guess as to how the PGA is going to actually monitor what reporters do online.

Votaw also said that the Tour has its own Twitter streams, and that Shot Link is available online, but the Tour doesn’t focus on one player with its official Tweets and when Tiger is winning (or even when he’s just in a tournament) there is a large segment of the population of golf fans who want only Tiger information, as much as they can get. The Tour is not going to satisfy that desire, but smart Tweeters like Wei and others can easily fill the void. There are also cases like last weekend’s two-course setup, where the Shot Link technology isn’t in place — so why not let the private tweeters fill the info gaps? Who loses?

The bottom (140-character) line on all this? The Tour is certainly in bounds with a policy that prevents people from using the Tour’s own data to construct commerical outlets. Everyone gets that. What still isn’t clear is what the Tour considers “play by play” since sometimes there is more than one or two things going on per hole (imagine, for instance, the Twitter stream of anyone covering something like Jean Van de Velde’s meltdown at the British Open in 1999, had Twitter been around then). I think the tour needs to lighten up and keep its policy in place but don’t enforce it unless those egregious situations Votaw described occur. Smacking down reporters who spend their time on the course providing fans with more details? What they are doing is only good for the sport, and if anything it will increase, not decrease, the viewership for the important paid-for video and other sponsored outlets.


  1. During a practice round at last year’s Masters, I tried Tweeting about the lack of pimentos in my pimento cheese sandwich. Before I could hit send, a guy in a Green jacket named Rocco told me to not bring shame upon the course and threatened to take my badge. Bigger question: how did he know what I was going to Tweet?

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