The awesomeness of Augusta

Columns - america’s greenkeeper

©matthew wharton

When Alexander Pope used the phrase, “Hope springs eternal … ” while composing “An Essay on Man” in the early 1700s, there is no way he could have known there would one day exist a golf tournament held annually in Augusta, Ga., the second week of April. With dogwoods and azaleas in bloom, signaling the arrival of spring, the Masters annually ushers in a renewed sense of hope and excitement. The majors have arrived for professionals and top amateurs alike, and another season of golf has finally arrived for everyone tired of winter in the Northern Hemisphere.

There are so many great things about the Masters, the Augusta National Golf Club and that symbolic renewed sense of hope. Maybe this will be the year you trim a few strokes from your handicap, or make your first hole-in-one, or win the city championship. The list goes on and on. Hope springs eternal for everyone loving the game of golf when the Masters arrives.

For many others, the Masters also signals the arrival of returning members, guests and patrons as courses reopen for the new year. There is a worry within our realm that these returning players will expect perfection right out of the gate after viewing the impeccably maintained and presented ANGC on high-definition television. This worry and sometimes dread have led many superintendents and course managers to begin referring to the so-called “Augusta Syndrome.”

But rather than complaining that the Masters creates false or unrealistic expectations from our members, guests and patrons, I propose an alternative … the “Augusta Inspiration.” This year I had the good fortune to attend the Masters on Wednesday (par-3 contest day) with my wife. It was her first visit in five years, and we were excited to experience ANGC together again. I listened to Masters Radio on Sirius XM PGA Tour Radio as we made the 2 ½-hour drive from Charlotte while she “rested her eyes.”

I thought about how perfect everything was at that moment. The anticipation and excitement, the sun rising as we timed our early arrival. One of the stories I heard that morning was how co-founder Clifford Roberts would spend time in his office inspecting every item the club purchased as gifts for the participants. Whether it was ensuring zippers worked properly or personally removing loose, dangling threads with tiny scissors, it wasn’t enough for a Masters gift to be the perfect gift. The gift needed to be presented perfectly to every participant.

I think we can all agree the attention to detail at ANGC is unrivaled and that tradition and expectation has been passed down from founders Bob Jones (he tolerated being called Bobby) and Roberts to everyone involved with ANGC today. In the years since Mrs. Greenkeeper last attended, they have built a new media center and totally revamped the golf shop and patron entrance.

You know from memory something is different from the moment you walk in, yet it looks like it’s always been that way. They do a remarkable job ensuring everything is presented consistently with impeccable attention to detail, nothing is missed. Perhaps ANGC and the Masters truly represent the possibility of what is achievable when attention to detail is at the absolute highest level. What if we look to the care and presentation of ANGC as inspiration of what we can achieve on our own courses if/when we think outside the box and pay even closer attention to every tiny detail?

Yes, budgets, staff sizes, equipment, and more are limiting factors. You will still need to communicate to your members, guests and patrons when your staff size is smaller than the contingent of fairway mowers alone at ANGC. There are limitations to levels of expectations. But instead of thinking of the Masters and ANGC as creators of a negative syndrome, let’s look to them and their impeccable attention to detail as inspiration of what is truly possible when we allow ourselves to dream.

Before you chastise me for writing about a tournament that happened last month – especially when Bethpage Black hosts the PGA Championship this month – let’s applaud the efforts of my fellow Syngenta Business Institute 2015 alum Andrew Wilson and his team of all-stars and volunteers for their work. Perhaps they were even inspired.

Matthew Wharton, CGCS, MG, is the superintendent at Carolina Golf Club in Charlotte, N.C., and President of the Carolinas GCSA. Follow him on Twitter @CGCGreenkeeper.