A tradition like no other? In the case of the Masters, it’s not hyperbole. This much-anticipated, southern-fried “tooniment” held at Augusta National each April is a veritable rite of spring that balances tradition and innovation like no other golf event. Say what you want, but those guys (and now gals) in the green coats get it right every year. Here are 10 reasons why.
This trio of holes, immortalized by golf historian Herbert Warren Wind, sets Augusta National apart from all other major tournament venues. Each year, players must confront the daunting prospect of the par-four 11th, which tumbles 505 yards to a slippery, pond-side green; the terrifying par-three 12th, its shallow, wafer-like green defended by swirling winds and Rae’s Creek; and the hairpin-shaped 13th, arguably the best and most natural risk-reward par five in the world.
Par 3 Contest:
This informal event, which dates back to 1960, may be the most endearing of all the traditions at the Masters. Held the Wednesday of tournament week (and now televised), the
players often enlist their children or grandchildren, nieces or nephews to serve as caddies. There’s something heartwarming about seeing a youngster in a miniature Augusta National jumpsuit tending the flagstick or toting a light bag. The field consists of tournament participants, noncompeting past champions, and honorary invitees who play a petite, 9-hole layout where 75 holes-in-one have been made over the years.
The Masters was one of the first tournaments to embrace golf as a global sport. It has a long tradition of inviting foreign players to compete. This year is no different. In addition to dozens of players from the U.S., 20 countries will be represented in the field, from Argentina (Angel Cabrera) to Thailand (Thaworn Wiratchant).
Sandwiches at Yesterday’s Prices:
The Masters may be one of the toughest tickets in sports—the event is sold out every year—but once on the grounds, time-warp pricing is in effect. Featured on the “Patron’s Menu” is the club’s famous Pimento cheese sandwich priced at $1.50. An egg salad sandwich is also $1.50, as is tuna salad on wheat bread. The Masters club sandwich costs $2.50. Big spenders can splurge on a chicken sandwich, a fan favorite that returns to the menu this year. The retro price? A modest $3.00.
Lifelong Exemptions for Champions
Only the Masters invites its past winners to attend the Champion’s Dinner and compete if they wish. Twelve past champions, from Tommy Aaron to Fuzzy Zoeller, will be in attendance but will not play the main event. Other past champions who have elected to tee it up this year include Fred Couples, Ben Crenshaw, Bernhard Langer, Sandy Lyle, Mark O’Meara, Jose Maria Olazabal, Craig Stadler, Tom Watson, and Ian Woosnam. Their presence adds immeasurably to the continuity and tradition of the tournament.
Virtually Commercial-Free Telecast:
Have you watched a regular season PGA Tour event on TV lately? The commercial breaks are so frequent and intrusive, they take all the fun out of watching the telecast. One or two shots, a couple of putts, then a “message from our sponsors.” Not so at the Masters. In a unique arrangement not driven by advertising dollars, the club limits CBS to four minutes of commercials per hour. This unusual arrangement translates to long stretches of uninterrupted, commercial-free viewing. What a pleasure.
Search far and wide, there’s no course on earth quite like Augusta National. With its perfectly groomed emerald green fairways laid through tall Georgia pines and their understory of dogwoods and azaleas, this former nursery and indigo plantation, transformed by Alister MacKenzie and Bobby Jones into an inland version of the Old Course at St. Andrews, presents players with the most majestic stage for the game imaginable.
It all started with Jock Hutchison and Fred McLeod hitting ceremonial opening drives in 1963. Since that time, Gene Sarazen, Byron Nelson, Ken Venturi, and Sam Snead did the honors in various configurations. Now it’s the Big Three: Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, and Gary Player. Think there’s more than a little anticipation when these three heavyweights, who collectively won 13 green jackets, make their way to the first tee?
Converted to bentgrass several years ago, the sprawling greens at Augusta National are rolled to the consistency of polished marble come the week of the Masters. On more than a few holes, downhill putts looks like they’re rolling down the hood of a car. These quick, slippery surfaces test nerve and touch like no other greens in the world. The player who copes best with their nuances usually emerges the winner.
In the spirit of club co-founder and lifelong amateur Bobby Jones, the Masters has long relished its role as a tournament where the game’s top amateurs are invited to compete. These include the current U.S. Amateur champion and runner-up, British Amateur champion, U.S. Amateur Public Links champion, U.S. Mid-Amateur champion, and Asian Amateur champion, who this year happens to be 14-year-old sensation Guan Tianlang of China. No other tournament has so unique and varied a field.
By: Brian McCallen