A member of my family is going to The Masters this week, and it isn’t me.
Of course, outwardly, I’m thrilled for my older son. He works hard, he’s doing well, he’s been invited by clients, he loves golf as much as I do, this will be as big a thrill for him as anyone I know. His wife and daughter and friends are all delighted for him, and he’ll have a wonderful time. I’m jealous and I hate him.
But I got to thinking. I wonder how different a visit to The Masters would be today, compared to the only time I’ve ever been. That was in 1982, before there were cars, phones, and electricity. Martin Van Buren was the President of the United States. Coal had just been discovered.
Craig Stadler won The Masters the year I was there, little more than a day after I saw him bury a wedge hosel-deep in the 14th fairway after a bad shot. (Stadler, to be fair, is one of the nicest, most intelligent guys you’d ever meet off the golf course; but a petulant, cranky, hothead on it.)
I know they still serve pimento cheese sandwiches at Augusta… probably the only venue on the planet that does. I understand they still sell them for $1.50, which may be the same price as it was in 1982. I don’t remember because I’m sure I didn’t have one then. But at that price today, I’d have one now. (Hell, I just paid $2.25 for a Popsicle for my granddaughter in a convenience store last Sunday. Who knew frozen flavoured water would one day approach the price of gold?)
I know the flowers will still look spectacular at Augusta, as will the pine straw in the woods. I swear that the members themselves studiously PLACE each pine needle in its proper spot just before Tournament Week. And I suspect that the maintenance people who look after garbage disposal around the grounds are hired from Hollywood studios… you’d never suspect that that guy over there who looks like Ryan Reynolds is actually spending his day lugging green bags out of range of Patrons’ sensitive retinae.
I know that newcomers to The Masters will be shocked by the elevation changes at Augusta… the height of the hills, and the slopes on the greens. My son will also be in awe of the crowd… the number of people there, how well dressed they all are, and how polite – to each other and to the quality of play they witness. It’s golf’s equivalent to Wimbledon, and that’s a very good thing. No caps on backwards at Augusta.
I’m sure that if I was going to Augusta with my son, I wouldn’t notice anything different. Many small changes to the course, to be sure, and some large changes to the property – a longer drive on 11, no Eisenhower tree on 17, a VIP hospitality area called Berckmans Place and more off-site grounds for parking – but all very subtle adjustments. I’m sure those are the same pine needles.
One thing that’s changed is how he’s getting there, compared to me. In 1982, I was one of about 150 people who flew to Augusta and back, from Toronto, in one day. This was an annual trip organized by a London, Ontario member of Augusta National, by the name of Colin Brown Sr. Over the 15 or so years that he managed this magic carpet ride, I don’t think there was ever an empty seat. In ’82, I sat with Colin’s son, who’s a good friend to this day. Sadly, that excursion stopped a long time ago, one of the few traditions that has.
And that’s the beauty of The Masters, and why it’s so revered. The overall atmosphere and tradition ages gracefully, like a bottle of Chateau Lafite. And it just keeps getting better with time, adapting gently to the modern age and embracing only what improves the tradition, not changes it.
Unfortunately, the grace of continuity does not work (at least for me) with the television broadcast. I’ll be sitting at home all weekend gagging at Jim Nantz’s hyperbole, Nick Faldo’s forced wit, and the over-the-top hushed-tone reverence applied by all the other over-50 announcers. And of course, this year will be the first Masters since 1955 without Arnold Palmer. You can bet your boots they’ll remind us of that 8-10 times an hour, as if we weren’t saturated with it at Bay Hill.
And don’t get me started on the tinkling piano leading into and out of every break in the action. I’m breaking out in hives already.
Nonetheless, short of being IN Augusta with my son this week, there’s nowhere else I’d rather be from Thursday to Sunday, than in front of Augusta in my living room.
Pass the pimento, honey.
A quick Post Script Rant re: the Lexi Thompson Ruling. Absolutely, 100% ludicrous and unfair. If this doesn’t point out, once again, the stupidity of the Rules of Golf, and the officials who applied them in this case, I don’t know what does. It was like watching someone get the electric chair for an expired parking meter. No, it was stupider than that: one television viewer who needs to get a life, a committee of overzealous rules officials, and one victim whose livelihood was just deprived of millions of dollars of potential revenue, and a place in golf history. All for an infraction that was somewhat debatable, and inconsequential to anything. They should have ignored the viewer when he/she sent the email, as they should in every single case when they get a call or a message like that, from a viewer or an on-site spectator. Other than that, it was a fine tournament.