In the second week of April every year, millions of golfers and non-golfers pay homage to the most revered entity the game, Augusta National Golf Club.
The club was formed in 1933 by the greatest amateur player of all time, Bobby Jones. Jones, who was loved around the world, remains today, as the only person ever to be honored with two ticker tape parades through the streets of New York.
He solicited the assistance of his close friend Clifford Roberts, a highly successful N.Y. banker. Between them, they had contacts, so establishing an exclusive, private country club during the depression years wasn’t quite the challenge others might experience.
That bring us to the experience of the Masters.
Upon arrival for your first visit, there are several things that occur to you. The first is the signage along every route in Augusta. It’s everywhere. Even if you follow great big green footprints painted on the street, finding the course couldn’t be easier.
As you get closer, there are police everywhere and you can feel the excitement. Banners float in the wind of local restaurants, people are walking with the same brisk determination shown when they can hear an auctioneer’s voice at a sale.
Evidence of the affluence of the club’s membership smacks you right in the face when you realize that it purchased a complete subdivision right across the road and demolished all the homes, turning it into a gigantic parking lot for their tournament guests.
The tournament’s main gate is located away from the members’ entrance. Only a select few are allowed to even see Magnolia Lane, let alone drive up it.
As the gate opens, anxious crowds clamber for an advantage. They are met head-on by the biggest security guard you have ever seen who proclaims in a Lou Rawls-like voice that “patrons at Augusta do not run. There is no running at Augusta!”
As though struck with gamma rays, people seem to enter in slow motion while their circuitry is re-programmed. As the instructions sink in, rampant idiots are transformed from raging animals into “patrons.” The very word stops them cold.
They awkwardly perform a deep search of their souls, looking for the most remote memory of civility and wonder if they will have the proper manners within their grasps, should the need arise.
Goliath has made his point. One miscue, one little peep, one tiny error in judgement and you, my dear friend, will be escorted out.
Next is security.
In the excitement, nobody cares about the invasive x-rays that are more stringent than La Guardia in New York.
On your way to the first tee, you pass the merchandise stores. The wares are displayed in a style reflecting elegance and value. The prices are not exorbitant, but make sure you bring your wallet. What to do with your cache of goodies? Simply put them into a fred storage locker until you are ready to go home.
On to the course.
At the first tee comes your next revelation. The view from there covers the whole property. You could ski down the 10th fairway to the green. The elevation change is at least 100 feet.
The brilliant emerald green grass is greener than any shade of green you have ever seen. It seems as though every blade has been individually measured and custom cut. The flowers are sculptured and hand painted.
Fairways are lined with cathedral pines that reach proudly and ambitiously straight toward the warm Georgia sun as they stand on guard.
The buildings are cleaner than a CIL commercial, the walkways etched on the ground and the whole property is tended to with an attitude of perfection, of which both the Vatican and Disney World would be proud.
Surrounding the entire property is a huge 10-foot chain link fence. Growing densely against the fence is about eight to 10 feet of thick, dense bamboo underbrush that reaches higher than the fence. Nobody can see in and nobody can see out. It is a bastion of refuge.
While meticulously groomed, there is a sense that you are looking at a painting. Everything is perfect, but you are always on the outside.
In the midst of all this divinity, strangeness exists. There is no wildlife, no birds, no squirrels. The bird sounds you hear on TV are recordings played on speakers located high in the tree tops.
The membership consists of the most influential, powerful people in the world and this influence is felt within golfers throughout the globe.
On Wednesday, Mr. Billy Payne, the chairman of the club gave his annual press conference and State of the Union address. He is a man with a commanding presence and one of the most credible, respectable and comforting people I have ever watched as a he speaks to the public.
He told of the Augusta National Golf Club’s initial and endless pursuit of perfection, of their self-imposed desire to help grow the game and, of course, he took on the anchoring controversy.
As every affected organization, every media-oriented subject and every opinionated golfer sat breathlessly waiting for a declaration, Mr. Payne enacted moves mimicking Fred Astaire waltzing with Ginger Rogers.
He simply said “I cannot comment on a case that hasn’t been resolved, but we do hope the end result is a common set of rules”.
Simple and elegant. The power and the glory have spoken. The grand hand of Augusta National has said, “Not one person, not one group is bigger than the game. Talk it through, decide what is in the best interest of the game and then give us a call.”
“Until you are ready, we all have more important things to do.”