Baseball and Negronis are gifts that arrive with spring and keep on giving all summer long. The Masters, on the other hand, enters our lives and just as quickly departs, leaving us with just the sound of Jim Nantz’s ingratiating voice echoing in our ears. Brace yourself for the tinkling of the piano keys—the familiar theme is written by a certain Dave Loggins (which I really wish was my pen name).
Yes, bless us all, tomorrow the Masters is back.
If you think the reverential tone of the announcers is just for show recall that Gary McCord once told the television audience the putting greens were so fast they seemed “bikini waxed.” That was it for Gary—he was not given a mulligan—he was simply not asked back, cast into vulgar metaphor purgatory. You don’t mess with the Masters.
It casts its hold on many of us who are not golfers or even, for that matter, really golf fans. What captivates us with the fervor usually reserved for Beyoncé acolytes? Well, the atmosphere, singular course and remarkable drama all create, as they say, “a tradition unlike any other.” Think of the Masters as a natural high that oscillates between low key whispering and acute drama.
Is this tradition enforced with a pageantry that’s overly sentimental? Hell yes! Why do grown men tear up watching an ancient Arnold Palmer hit the ceremonial opening drive down the fairway? I have no idea, but it makes strange sense at the time.
This doesn’t happen by accident. These people, after all, run the most scenic golf course in the country, but it’s not so scenic that they aren’t above dyeing the ponds a more telegenic shade of blue. Yes, Augusta National works to maintain its aura. They keep a stranglehold on the televised production values as tightly as they enforce their membership (which, it goes without saying, is half a century or so behind the times).
Unlike most sporting entities they don’t take all the money they can get, or even half of it. Watching the NCAA basketball tournament this past week was to be assaulted with ads at every conceivable turn. Tune in to a baseball game and there’s a sponsor for everything from the starting lineup to the call to the bullpen to the weather report. It’s relentless.
That’s just the way the world works, we’re told, you can’t keep money out of every corner of sport. But the Masters proves it isn’t so. They have just a handful of sponsors, only four minutes of ads an hour and refuse to let CBS promote any of their dreadful sitcoms (they are allowed to mention 60 Minutes once on Sunday afternoon). They don’t even allow the blimp. And on a more humane note, they only charge patrons a few dollars for beer, (though apparently the members’ dining room has an outrageous wine cellar) and a Pimento cheese sandwich will only set you back $1.50.
Are some of the traditions ridiculous? Of course they are, starting with the green jackets that are not at all handsome, in fact, they’re almost defiantly unflattering. But that doesn’t mean you can’t let yourself go and enjoy the game on your own terms. The Masters plays well with a bottle of Riesling. It plays well with a case of beer. It even plays well with a joint—Verne Lundquist has a special connection with those in altered states (“Oh my!”).
In the end, the Masters understands that in a sporting culture racing to sell every inch of space and every second of airtime, there remains a price for mystique. And that price is worth paying.