I heard somebody describe the Masters as “more Member-Guest than Major,” and that’s pretty close to the truth. Especially Monday through Wednesday. I walked into the press building last week to see many, no all of the same, familiar faces.
Martha Wallace, in her familiar spot behind the counter looked up at me and said, “Hi Sam, great to see you again!” That might not seem extraordinary but remember, this is a Major championship, one of the big sporting events in the world every year. There are a thousand or more media types running around the grounds at Augusta National.
And Martha greets most of them by name. I did feel a little special though when she said, “Sam this is your 31st year!” “I’m well aware of that Martha,” I said with a laugh, feigning an age wince. “You worked at WCBD in Charleston from 1978 to 1981as the Sports Director there before you went to Jacksonville,” Martha said, reciting my record on her computer screen. “If I ever want to know something about myself I’m calling Augusta,” was my answer in a serious voice. Martha lowered hers and whispered, “We’re better than the government.”
And I believe it.
I do know that if you have the right credentials and follow the rules, it’s one of the easiest events to navigate. Conversely, if you don’t have what you need, you’re not getting in. And break the rules and you’re out as well. Politely, but the people at the Masters run things they way they see fit, and if you don’t want to go along, no problem, there’s a tournament next week.
And that’s one of the things I like the most about working there.
They make every accommodation for you if you’re trying to get your job done. They cater to their “patrons” to help them enjoy the experience. You can still get a sandwich and a beer for less than five dollars. And of course the place is immaculate. So much so that I’ve noticed over the years that smokers carry their cigarette butts with them instead of throwing them on the ground. The wrappers are still green on all of things sold at Augusta and the commercial names on anything are covered up.
The tournament has changed over the years. The golf course is different, the clubhouse rules have changed (Women were not allowed on the second floor until about 8 years ago), the press building is now state of the art and the practice rounds tickets are now done by lottery.
Starting next year, the tournament will begin to allow children in for free with a paying adult. Tournament Chairman Billy Payne made that announcement along with several others instituting a whole different focus for Augusta National. I’ve always been impressed with Payne and continue to be so. His vision for the tournament and the club is far reaching.
His focus this year is on brining more young people into the game. That’s why he encouraged such frivolity at the Par 3 contest. That’s why the Par 3 is now televised. “We want young people to see that you can play a thousand yard golf course in under two hours and have fun doing it,” the Chairman said at his Wednesday press conference. It’s a brilliant initiative and worthy of the “visionary” status that most people give Payne.
The tournament continues to be run flawlessly and this year they were plagued with some tough weather on Sunday that drove the scores up. That’s ‘going to happen. But I’m a bit concerned about the “mystique” that is the Masters and the roars from the back nine that separate Augusta from everywhere else, including the other three majors.
The course is so difficult now that nobody’s going to shoot 31 on the back and charge to the front a la Palmer, Nicklaus and others. That’s one of the things that makes the Masters what it is and I hope they bring that back.
Trevor Immelman is a nice champion but playing it safe and shooting 75 in the final round doesn’t excite anybody. Will Immelman emerge as the next great International player? Who knows? Gary Player’s voice mail apparently settled him enough on Sunday to get him through the tough times. Player told him to keep his head a little more still while putting and to grind it out through adversity, because it will come.
Immelman took advantage of that advice and wins the Green Jacket. It’d be nice if he’d validate the win by backing it up with some solid play, and wins throughout the rest of the year.