Pebble Beach, Calif. - Thanks to a partnership between the USGA and American Express, Pritash Mathur is sharing his U.S. Open experience with friends and family back in India.
Mathur, a banker from Mumbai, is at Pebble Beach to watch his friend and former junior golf opponent Arjun Atwal compete at the Open. On Thursday, Mathur stood in the American Express tent and watched as his 14-year-old son Shrey took a picture and posted it on his Facebook page.
"This is fabulous," Mathur said. "We can instantly tell our friends back home what is going on at the U.S. Open."
Professional golf is suddenly embracing the social networking community.
Cell phones, PDAs and other noise-producing electronic equipment are not allowed at professional golf championships. At this year's U.S. Open, American Express, one of the USGA's corporate sponsors, has computer kiosks set up at five locations to enable fans to join the social network conversation. They can share their experiences using Twitter and the #amexgolf hashtag to tag their tweets, snap a photo or share personalized messages on Facebook, foursquare or e-mail.
Those messages are then aggregated and posted on a 35-foot multimedia wall in the Amex tent and on the USOPEN.com Web site.
Alex Withers, the USGA's managing director for digital media, said the partnership with Amex allows fans to be more engaged and enhances the USOPEN.com site. He said 6 million fans will visit the site, and many of them belong to a social networking group.
"We needed to engage the social networking community," Withers said. "And Amex offered us the ability to do that.
"It doesn't replace what we do, but it is complementary to our site and is an enhancement to USOPEN.com."
Under the Twitter key at the site, there are two categories: insiders and on-course tweets. The insiders include players such as Davis Love III, Stewart Cink and Ian Poulter plus several prominent golf writers. The on-course tweets are the fans' contributions through the Amex sites.
On Wednesday, Love tweeted, "Don't need a practice round now. Maybe I'll just go paddle surf."
Cink was sending pictures from the course during his practice rounds. "Per request, here is the famed 7 green from Sunday afternoon in calm, overcast. It has since turned more brown."
All of this is part of what American Express calls its cardholders' "Championship Experience" that also includes CourseCast TVs and radios with earplugs, and a complementary swing analysis from a pro. But the social networking has been the highlight of the experience.
"We're really excited about what this does for the golf experience," said Pooja Kapadia, the director of sports and entertainment access at American Express. "It allows people on-site at the course to connect with people off-site and is a great way to connect communities."
On Friday, Denise Wong from San Francisco and her sister Helen of New York posted a picture on Facebook with the message, "Hello from the U.S. Open at beautiful Pebble Beach. This is the only picture because no cameras or cell phones allowed.
Denise was delighted she could connect with her friends. "This is a neat way to integrate the technology we are used to with the old school technology of golf," she said.
Larry Tarleton is a member of the USGA's Communications Committee.