Monday, April 6, 2015

THE MASTERS -- a tournament like no other

Like most golfers, I have an profound attraction toward The Masters. Is Augusta National, the home of the April tournament, the most hallowed grounds in all of golf? Not to me. I love, love, love all golf courses. I love the game. Like all amateurs and professionals, we strive to get better. Some err on the side of too much tinkering, but not me. I have no patience for hours of practice.

Over the years as a reporter in Georgia where The Masters was born and reached hallowed status, I’ve reported on and been on the fairways of the beautiful course. I never stepped foot on a green because I’ve  never played the course. It wasn’t until a few years back that a woman actually joined the previously good ol’ boys venue. (I doubt august members of the club like me calling it a venue, though.) More on words later.

The history of Augusta National is more than golf to Georgia. It was once a large orchard called Fruitland Nurseries. Owned and operated by the P.J. Berckmans, the Peach State can thank Fruitland for planting millions of peach trees in the 1800s and early 1900s.

The Masters is one of the most unusual events in sports. It’s all about (stuffy, some would say) tradition.

The Masters would never have been created if the USGA hadn’t turned down Bobby Jones’ request to host the 1934 US Open. Angry at the snub, Jones and Clifford Roberts decided to stage their own tournament. Take that, USGA.

On-air commentators are forbidden to use normal golf terms -- “championship” being the biggie. The U.S. Open, British Open, and PGA are championships. The Masters is an invitational tournament. The winner is not the champion. Some other words you won’t hear are: “fans,” “bleachers,” “sand traps. The preferred words are “patrons,” “observation stands,” “bunkers.”

Amateurs have always been invited to The Masters, but Jones himself was no amateur due to his equipment deals and monies made outside the actual game. However, in the eyes of The Masters, which he founded, he is considered an amateur.

If you’re the winner of The Masters, you get a green jacket like a beauty pageant winner during her crowning ceremony. The Jacket dates back to the forties when members started wearing a green jacket so as to be identifiable by patrons Also, when a member hosted guests in the clubhouse, the green jacket designated who got the check.

Patron respect of the hallowed course and the invitational is phenomenal. Marshals need not hold up “Quiet Please” signs because everyone respects the tournament. The people are not a crowd or even a gallery, they are patrons. They do not run from hole to hole, like in so many other “championships.” Use a term like “mob” as one commentator did and you will not be invited back next year or thereafter.

What does it cost to be an Augusta National member? Not as much I thought. Every year when I did a newspaper piece for The Masters, I’d call the membership director and ask that silly question. I was told that membership is private in all ways. They did not “out” members, even though it got around that Warren Buffett and Bill Gates had joined. Rumor has it that it costs less than a $100,000 to join which is peanuts -- without the gallery -- to the initiation fees of many prestigious golf clubs. Should you be invited as a guest by a member, the round is said to cost a niggling forty bucks.

Money is evidently not everything to Augusta National. While hot dogs are the staples of baseball, pimento cheese sandwiches are the premier nourishment at The Masters. The sandwiches sell for $1.50. But there was an uproar in 2013 over the change in the recipe. A patron said he was fine with adding female members, and even tolerant of belly putters, but changing the recipe of the pimento cheese sandwich went too damn far.

The trees of Augusta National.

Respectfully submitted,

Gerrie Ferris Finger

Masters' Patron.