Augusta National: A Tradition Like a Plantation Home
Ernie Els, who enters the Masters after two big victories on the PGA Tour last month, referred to that first major tournament of each year and its battleground, the Augusta National Golf Club, as “a place of fairy tales.”
The Masters and its course have been called lots of things since the first five of these annual spring golf tournaments were known as the Augusta National Invitation (1934—1938). But maybe a land of “fairy tales” is as good as any.
There have been some truly magical events on that beautiful green landscape, from Gene Sarazen’s double eagle on 15 in 1935 to Jack Nicklaus’s great back nine run to win in 1986 at age 46 and many more.
Tiger Woods may hope for that atmosphere plus a heavy dose of magic star dust when he goes through the Washington Road gate to Augusta National GC tomorrow with reporters and cameras awaiting his every move and word. He would be delighted if someone could wave a wand and have all of his past indiscretions disappear in a puff of smoke just the way the frog turned into a prince when kissed by the beautiful princess.
He might also hope that while in that never-never land of Augusta National, the old false image of Tiger Woods as hero athlete and upstanding citizen could be recreated and once again believed.
Tiger will be well-insulated from the paparazzi and tabloid reporters within the confines of Augusta National this week. Even questions from those approved reporters covering the Masters may be censured during post-play news conferences in the big press building. Masters officials tend to ignore the First Amendment at times.
But even with all of their control over what goes on within that green playground, the clannish members of Augusta National do not have enough mystical power to build a new, solid foundation for this fallen idol.
Tiger might win the Masters. There are plenty of bad actors who are winners.
There will be a powerful campaign to sell Tiger Woods once again during this week at Augusta National. After all, television (both ESPN and CBS in this case) want him to come back in a big way. It is all about those falling golf TV ratings and potential commercials.
TV does a full-time job trying to make the Masters out to be the greatest wonder of the world of sports. The Masters is the home of repeated hyperbole.
Time and time again, we have heard Jim Nance in a CBS Masters promo say, “The Masters, a tradition like no other.”
Well, he might just be correct. But not necessarily in the way he and the Augusta National GC members wish.
For certain, the Masters has been a fine tournament on an outstanding golf course. But this is only the 74th Masters. It is but the baby of the four majors.
The other three majors this summer will be the 110th United States Open in June at Pebble Beach, the 138th British Open in July at St. Andrews and the 92nd PGA Championship in August at Whistling Straits.
I never felt the Masters was the best or most difficult of the four major tournaments year-in and year-out. Usually, the U.S. Open course is set up as the most difficult test among the four majors.
Augusta National is a fine golf course. But the strength of the track during the Masters is almost entirely on and immediately surrounding the greens, so much so that at times, Augusta National has been a tricked up course with greens that are too hard, too fast and virtually impossible to hold. This has been particularly true since the greens were seeded with bent grasses in the mid 1980s, replacing the original Bermuda grasses.
The modern day touring pro usually has less trouble tee to green at Augusta than in each of the other three majors. So the powers that be at the Masters make the greens play like your dining room table at times. Holding and putting those huge greens is the whole game at Augusta.
My favorite major tournament was always the British Open. I am partial to links courses where The Open, as it is properly known in Britain, is always held. These courses are not altered very much for an Open or tricked up unless they let the rough grow a bit too much during a wet summer.
The U.S.Open is my second choice among the majors, although the PGA Championship is now just about on a par with the U.S. Open for course difficulty and real challenge.
I was just never very comfortable at Augusta National for a number of reasons. I suppose it was primarily because of the obvious racist and sexist attitude that pervaded the place years ago. This kept Lee Trevino from playing the Masters many times.
Augusta National did not admit its first African American member until 1990, the year I retired. Referred to by many writers as “the last of the old plantations,” Augusta National came by that moniker honestly. The club membership has long consisted of many of the wealthiest CEOs and presidents of the nation’s largest companies.
Years ago, they seemed totally at ease with their discrimination at that very exclusive club that is situated on land used as an indigo plantation prior to the Civil War. The plantation owner, Dennis Redmond, undoubtedly used slaves for his work force.
Bobby Jones and Cliff Roberts, who founded Augusta National GC in the early 1930s, would not have admitted a black man as a member. That was the attitude at the great majority of private golf clubs throughout the United States in those days. But Augusta National, always center stage and very public every Masters week, stood out as a bastion of racism and bigotry — sort of “a tradition like no other.”
As far as women are concerned at Augusta National, they are still second class citizens. There are no distaff members.
Although living and working in the 21st Century, members go through that front gate at Augusta National and step into the 1930s and 1940s.
Considering that the membership at Augusta National has always included leading bankers, industrialists, lawyers and politicians, one can understand why minorities and women had such a difficult time making progress in the American work force. One might think the glass ceiling and other impediments to progress were dreamed up over a few 19th hole drinks at Augusta National.
But that is all part of “a tradition like no other.”
Gordon White served 43 years as a sports reporter for The New York Times. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org
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