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The Georgia-bred golfer and New York-connected investment banker who created the Masters were visionaries. They were even better matchmakers. Nothing in golf, turf or sports incites more unconditional love.
How beloved is the Masters? You can order a pimento cheese sandwich and convince somebody with a sophisticated palette you made a tasty dining selection. You can justify being detached from family members and colleagues on a workday. Or if you’re in the turf business, you can patronize an event that makes your life more difficult. A love for the Masters is why golfers demand bentgrass greens in warm-season climates and acres of unimpeded green. Turf professionals reciprocate the love by producing quality conditions on meager budgets.
I had the opportunity to attend a second consecutive Masters this year. My stroll around Augusta National Golf Club lasted much longer than it did in 2017, when ultra-severe weather wrecked the Wednesday practice round and Par 3 Contest.
Between a meeting and banquet, I spent seven among the patrons, walking more than 11 miles, snapping close to 300 pictures on a digital camera I have used just twice and scribbling notes that made little sense 24 hours later. OK, I’m not entirely sure of my mileage or step count. Even a former caddie struggles keeping accurate fitness metrics without a phone.
Two-thirds of that seven hours was spent on the first nine, holes named Tea Olive, Pink Dogwood, Flowering Peach, Flowering Crab Apple, Magnolia, Juniper, Pampas, Yellow Jasmine and Carolina Cherry. The holes are seen less on TV, attract fewer patrons and provide a more strenuous walk.
The second nine has been a part of my early April life since my introduction to golf in the mid-1990s. Camellia, White Dogwood, Golden Bell, Azalea, Chinese Fir, Firethorn, Redbud, Nandina and Holly are like college friends or former colleagues. You know you’re going to meet once a year, albeit most Masters reunions occur via television and with announcers ditching normal tones for Augusta National voices. The Masters is the only sporting event not involving Joe Buck where broadcasters alter presentations that propelled them to a national stage.
The Masters is also the only competition where you encounter patrons so overjoyed to be inside the gates their eyes water. While crossing the fifth fairway, I stopped to take pictures of a back-to-front sloping green boasting heavenly contours. A stranger approached me and asked if I could take his picture with the green in the background. He was holding a clear bag storing hundreds of dollars of merchandise. He hailed from Los Angeles and said he had been waiting since 1986, the year of Jack Nicklaus’ triumph at age 46, for this moment. He started crying as we stood about 60 yards from the green. “Yes, sir!” people love the Masters that much.
Playing a practice round by his lonesome, Jimmy Walker started his march toward the green and a marshal whisked us from the fairway. The patron from Los Angeles headed toward the sixth and 16th holes; I walked toward the right side of the fifth fairway. I passed more greens with heavenly contours before bumping into a few industry friends volunteering on superintendent Brad Owen’s tournament crew.
Realizing the volunteers couldn’t say anything publicly about Augusta National’s maintenance practices, I placed my notebook into the $25 Masters cinch bag I purchased 20 minutes earlier. The volunteers left their families and industry jobs to fly to Augusta for an expensive work week. Masters-priced travel and housing costs quickly drain personal budgets, and little that happens on the Augusta National grounds applies to the average golf course. But turf professionals sacrifice considerable time and money because they, well, love the tournament.
Later in the day, I received my first glimpses of Masters maintenance, a majestically orchestrated parade of mowers, tractors with monster truck-sized tires, divot plugs, blowers, rakes and data collection tools. Patrons soak it up, taking pictures of maintenance activities that go unnoticed elsewhere. A limited field and commencement of the Par 3 Contest yields minimal activity on the big course by 3 p.m. Wednesday. Patrons walk both nines anyway, inspecting Pinus taeda, azaleas, dogwoods, ryegrass fairways and dedicated professionals tidying grounds. Spending hours on a golf course without golfers – and lacking an efficient method to communicate with the real world – requires love.
Patrons. First nine. Second nine. First cut. Cola. No cellphones. Maddening secrecy. Red mowers painted a different color.
Why do we tolerate the throwback nomenclature and decorum?
It must be love.
Guy Cipriano is GCI’s senior editor.