Thanks for your call the other night. Of course I was up. At 3 in the morning, I was just hovering around the telephone waiting for your call. But I forgive you. I understand how excited you must be about your first trip to the Masters. Yes, it is one very special place. You're in store for one of the most memorable sporting events in the world. Even non-golfers sense how unique and singular the Masters is. Anyway, I'm happy you're going because I know how much the game and the Masters mean to you. A question: what makes the Masters such a special place? Here's a few reasons you can chew on until April:
1. The majestic beauty of Augusta National GC in the spring. Yes, I know you realize it's a pretty spot from what you've seen on TV; but let me warn you, you won't believe your eyes. It's greener than green and the flowering shrubs are bursting with color. Aesthetically speaking, Augusta National is a masterpiece of design, proportion, precision and color. Personally, I'm awestruck every year when I walk down the 10th fairway and later make my way over to Amen Corner.
2. The decorum and class of the patrons. The toughest ticket in sports has engendered the best etiquette and sportsmanship of any gallery extant. Every first time visitor should pick up and read a little free brochure, available near the entrance, called "Spectator Suggestions for the Masters." It was originally written by Bobby Jones and has been updated ever since. Along with spectator tips on natural vantage points, it gently insists on proper conduct and decorum. Russ, no matter how excited you may get, remember these words from Mr. Jones: "Walk--never run. Be considerate of other spectators. Golf is a gentleman's game."
3. Quality control. For those who violate the spirit of the preceding standards of conduct, be prepared to pay the penalty. Every badge has a unique number at the Masters. Yes, you're a valued yet traceable patron. You can walk; but you can never hide at Augusta.
4. Less is more. Unlike most sporting events, the Masters does not gouge its patrons. Sure the badge is pricey but once inside the hallowed grounds you're treated with respect. There's free parking that's expertly administered and patrolled and the prices on the course will astound you. Last year, you could buy a Coke for a buck and a sandwich for a mere two dollars. (Three bucks at the Palace might get you a napkin.) Expect the same this year. Also, notice the permament rest rooms all attended to and maintained in spotless sanitary condition. What's more there's shady picnic areas, checkstands, message centers, on course golf shops and computer kiosks--all for the benefit of the patrons. In short, the Masters was doing Disney before Disney.
5. Attention to detail. The Masters keeps extensive records and it constantly scrutinizes its procedures. Last year without fanfare, a new permament player restroom was built near the 6th tee. It seems the year before, it came to one of the committeemen's attention that players often were delayed if they availed themselves of patron restrooms near the fifth green. Presto! A new restroom for players only was erected. Another example occurred years ago when a Detroit golf writer expressed concerns to officials that it was dangerously dark in the parking lot when he and other scribes finally filed their stories and headed toward their cars. Presto! The very next year, large bright lights bathed the press parking lot with wattage.
6. Continuity and tradition. The Masters is the only major held at the same course every year. As such, serious golfers around the globe know by heart every hole, every bunker, every icy putting slope at Augusta. A sense of place is overwhelming. Likewise, the Masters seems to instill a vivid sense of history and memory--from Sarazen's albatross, to Palmer's charges, to Nicklaus' triumphs, and to Norman's heartbreak. And the smaller traditionsóthe milkman's overalls on the caddies, the manual scoreboards, the par 3 event, the custom of having only the player and his caddie (and rules officials) inside the ropes and on the pristine fairways--all take on special significance with each passing year.
The Masters and the members of Augusta National have taken their share of abuse over the years by outsiders and critics. Sure there were mistakes made and prejudices tolerated at Augusta. But who can argue over the incredible standard of excellence set and maintained by this golf tournament? In an era of free agency franchises, striking millionaire ballplayers who hit .231, and sham made for TV events, the Masters stands tall and noble in how it conducts its annual test. Maybe the best way to sum up the essence of the Masters is to draw upon something Ben Crenshaw said last year after he had won. An emotional Crenshaw recalled an indelible lesson he learned from his recently departed mentor, Harvey Penick. "You know, Ben, it's not about making money. It's about helping people enjoy the game."
Enjoy yourself, Russ.