How could I not write about the Masters? I love the Masters … maybe not as much as I used to … but on Sunday I may be saying it’s the best Masters ever – it can do that.
Why do I not love it as much as I used to? Because it seems to me it’s losing some of its charm. When I first went there in 1995 it was a life-changing experience – seriously. I wasn’t expecting how casual, and relaxed, and friendly, and intimate it was … I was expecting more of a typical Tour event, and sort of a phony/pretentious atmosphere. I was wrong – very wrong.
In 1995 we rolled in early Thursday morning for the first round. It was crowded, but easy to navigate, and no one seemed rushed. As we walked through the gate, I could see most of the golf course – it basically sits in a bowl. The elevation changes are more severe than they appear on tv. Then as we walked over to the first tee, I knew I was about to experience a unique golf tournament. The Starter was an elderly Southern Gentleman sitting at a table with a rock holding down the tee sheets. He slowly stood-up and announced “Sandy Lyle – driving” then slowly sat down before Lyle hit his tee shot.
It all felt like that. Everyone was courteous, no one was in a hurry. The food stands were even relaxed while they were selling 1$ pimento cheese sandwiches and 75 cent Cokes. Of course we bought folding chairs and parked them right on the 15th tee box – literally right behind the bench that the players sat on. Because 15 is a reachable par 5, the hole got backed up and there were usually 3 three-somes waiting to tee off. Because of the back up, the players turned around and talked to us like we were all at a party. Players were telling jokes, Ben Crenshaw talked to kids, and Jack Nicklaus held court about playing in his first Masters and having the shanks at the range.
On Friday while hanging around the 18th green, I saw a buddy of mine who was repping Arnold Palmer’s line of golf clubs. He insisted that I come over and meet Arnie who was sitting behind the green just talking to people. I argued that I didn’t know Palmer and wasn’t into celebrities. He basically dragged me over while saying that Arnie isn’t like that. So when we got there, I was looking at Palmer’s clubs and admiring his leather grips. He noticed my interest and asked if I also wrapped my clubs with leather grips (which I used to do in those days). Thus began an easy, casual conversation about the art of gripping golf clubs.
Speaking of golf clubs, all of the players were using wooden drivers to shape their shots. And there was no rough. The golf course looked like one big green. A wild shot had nothing to stop it … it would just roll until it ended up in a bad place. Eleven years later when I came back in 2006, there was light rough – not enough to really affect a shot, but enough to stop the ball from endlessly rolling. They said that they “Tiger-proofed” the course, but I think they set it up for him to win. The added yardage weeded out most of the field, and that light rough kept Tiger’s errant tee shots in play.
And in 2006 there were corporate tents. And the crowds seemed massive and unfriendly – a women went crazy because I was smoking a cigar.
I probably sound like a crabby old guy. I might be, but it doesn’t mean I’m wrong. Of course I still love the Masters and have been fired up all week. I just hope that Sunday is exciting and that the heart and soul of Bobby Jones continues to permeate Augusta National.
GM and Head Golf Professional