Near Yellow Mountain

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Masters of the Universe

The Masters Golf tournament is a unique sporting event. Uniquely American, uniquely southern but with a global appeal. Even non golfers seem to be attracted to the four day spectacle that is the Masters. The site is an 18 hole golf course that is more like a palace garden than a place where athletes compete. The ~300 strong membership of Augusta National Golf Club is mostly older men. They don green jackets and have a reverence for tradition that is so strong even the broadcast network carrying the event and the PGA (Professional Golfers Association ) have to follow the "Augusta" rules. The rules were written over 75 years ago by the founders - two young men from Georgia. One of the gentlemen was  arguably the greatest amateur golfer that ever lived. The other, a young businessman that ruled over his green fiefdom with an iron fist. Decades later, changes come when the membership of Augusta National deem them necessary and not before.

Since I was a child the Masters has been part of April. In the 1960s, Arnold Palmer and his army of followers marched across our 19 inch black and white TV each spring. The years went by - Arnold was followed  by Jack and Gary then Tom then Freddie then Tiger and now Bubba.

It doesn't get better than this - after my second shot on the 13th at Augusta
I got a chance to play in late 2011

Living in Japan did not prevent me from watching the annual Georgia celebration of golf - it only meant the announcers spoke Japanese and I had to get up in the middle of the night. The same was true for the time we lived in China.

Last weekend a lifelong dream came true  - a Japanese business partner invited my wife and me to attend the final round of the 75th Masters. Our pilgrimage started early - an hour and a half before the first non contender teed off. We walked through the gates with my Japanese friend to the right and  a Chinese friend to my left. We had been preceded by another new friend (we met at dinner the night before) who grew up in Venezuela. He graciously arrived early, waited for the gates to open and placed chairs at the 18th green so we could be part of the group seeing the final putt minting the 75th anniversary champion. I wasn't aware when I entered that I would be given access to the clubhouse because I was the guest of a member that had a connection to my Japanese business partner. Anyone who has been to the Masters as a spectator knows that getting into the clubhouse on Sunday is special.

An American, attending the quintessential American golf event which would ultimately be won by a South African-walking side by side with Asian friends. As a child watching Arnie on a snowy black and white picture or even years later when I was a graduate student at the University of Georgia, the idea that I would ever get to attend the Masters and be there with people born on the other side of the world was unfathomable.

During the morning we wandered the course before it was filled with players. We (I should say my wife) managed to get us seats at the first tee to see Freddie Couples and many other greats tee off. As noon approached we finished our tour of the front nine.

Playing "Amen Corner" during my November,  2011 visit
We had lunch in the clubhouse with our member host, who as a young man knew the founders well. He regaled us with tales of Presidents and other famous people who had come to the shrine of American golf. For many, Augusta National is an anachronism that should be wiped out by the current flood of political correctness. For me, this unique tradition laden club is a wonder that should not be tinkered with by those wanting to change everything into "PC grayscape".  After lunch, we spent over an hour watching from a great vantage point on "Amen Corner" then moved over to #16

We watched the last several groups play the 18th and saw the winner putt out. For me,  the day was like a dream and it was wonderful to share it with my wife. As we walked across the course and munched on the last pimento cheese sandwich available in a closing concession tent,  I was glad to have been part of this 75 year old tradition - if for only a few hours.

Waiting near the first tee
Later the same year, I was invited to visit Augusta, have dinner, stay in a cabin on the property and play 18 holes the next day. Another amazing opportunity that will never be forgotten.

An update for 2013 - day one of the Masters is over - a 14 year old Chinese player is the youngest person ever to qualify and after day one is still in the competition. There are now two women members at Augusta National. The world changes but Augusta remains - adapting and remaining the global shrine of golf.

The wine cellar at Augusta National - President Eisenhower's tree may be gone but his personally written initials are still in the spot that held his inventory

It is the night before the 2015 Masters begins. I am steeling myself for four days of watching: "Tiger comeback- take 5", Rory's attempt at a Grand Slam, Bubba hoping to repeat while I hope for a Freddie miracle or Jordan Spieth's first major. This is one of my favorite weeks of the year.