Under a tent between the 17th and 18th holes at Harbour Town Golf Links, iPads surround plush white couches with pillows emblazoned with the Twitter and Facebook logos.
The tent has been set up as an oasis for spectators to share, post, tag and tweet to their heart's content from the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing -- without drawing the ire of the PGA Tour.
The Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce, in partnership with the Heritage Classic Foundation, created the social media lounge, where spectators are encouraged to share their experiences. The chamber also hopes it will further efforts to brand the Heritage and Hilton Head as fun, family-friendly destinations, as well as increase the tournament's fan base.
"Social media has grown incredibly important as a travel influencer," chamber spokeswoman Charlie Clark said. "Research has shown people change their travel plans based on social media, which is today's word-of-mouth. And a social event like the RBC Heritage lends itself to folks interacting with their social network. It is a perfect opportunity to get the word out about the RBC Heritage and the island."
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Social media has quickly become a linchpin in player, PGA Tour and tournament promotions and fan interaction, said Lauren Teague, the tour's social-media manager.
The tour follows more than 150 players on Twitter. It has 2.5 million followers of its own, along with a half million fans on Facebook and 1.5 million on Google Plus.
"It's incredible how the use of social media has grown in such a short amount of time," said Teague, who was hired in 2008 as the tour's first employee dedicated to social media.
"It has brought fans closer to the game and turned attention toward players building their own brand. Social media has allowed us to provide a greater fan experience -- giving them a different way to consume golf. It provides them an inside perspective from players, who talk about life outside the ropes and share messages back and forth with other players."
But with that increased exposure comes tension in enforcing on-course etiquette and protecting exclusive TV rights and live scoring on the PGA Tour website.
Tweeting the occasional update, such as Luke Donald's birdie on hole No. 7 -- fine. Live tweeting action shots, scores and shot-by-shot updates during tournament play -- not cool.
"We want fans and spectators to talk about and share their experience with friend and family, but we also want them to be respectful of tournament play," Teague said. "And the place to do that is the social media lounge and designated cellphone zones. We have a clearly defined cellphone policy printed on tickets. And fortunately, we have some of the best fans in sports."
Ruth Bartlett of Atlanta stopped at the lounge to take a photo with girlfriends in the chamber's plaid-wrapped golf cart. She planned to post that, along with a photo with player Camilo Vilegas, to Facebook.
"I think it's great for promoting the tournament," Bartlett said of the lounge. "I'm an accountant, and we have Facebook pages. Our marketing person posts every week to promote the firm. If it's working for an accounting firm, it's got to work for a golf tournament and tourism here on the island."
- @WillieHeritage: #RBCHeritage social media machine: April 14, 2012
- PGA Tour's new mobile-phone rules ease restrictions: April 21, 2011