By Doug Comer
This is by far one of my favorite weeks of the year as it normally begins with the NCAA Championship game on Monday night.
And speaking of the big game, congrats to the North Carolina Tar heels on making it to the finals in back-to-back years and defeating a sound Gonzaga team giving Coach Roy Williams his 3rd National Title … Great job Heels!
But, now it begins. As the azaleas are in full bloom and the little town of Augusta is stocked full of visitors from all over the world, the first major of the year is upon us. Yes, it is Master’s Week.
People all over the world have attended Daytona for the 500, been to the Super Bowl or smelled the grass on center court at Wimbledon. But, probably one of the hardest tickets is a weekend pass to Augusta. One of the many benefits to being a PGA member is you get to attend any tournament you want, and bring a spouse. The years of work to earn that Class-A card does have its advantages.
And it is a special year for the Masters in a few ways. Twenty years ago we saw a skinny kid from Cali simply manhandle the golf course and set many records along the way to his first of four green jackets. Of course we all know that kid is Tiger Woods. Unfortunately, he will not be playing this week due to an ailing back that has hampered his attempt to tie the all-time major’s record set by Jack Nicklaus.
Sadly though, this is the first Masters without Arnold Palmer. Mr. Palmer could arguably be the man that put golf on the map. Palmer equaled Woods mark with four wins at Augusta, but sadly he passed away last summer, thus ending the run of “the King.” A true ambassador of the game, Mr. Palmer will forever be connected to the game of golf and especially Augusta National.
Where traditions are born, the Masters has those that cannot be repeated. For instance, the amateurs that qualify for the event are invited to stay in the Crow’s Nest. Bobby Jones’ attic has hosted the best players in the world including the likes of Phil Mickelson and Nicklaus. To compare, the Crow’s Nest could be equally as famous as Lincoln’s Room in the White House and those that have the chance to reside there learn so much about what Augusta National is all about.
Another caveat not normally known is the Champion’s Dinner on Tuesday evening. The previous year’s winner hosts the meal and picks the menu. From a good ole Texas Barbecue to a fancy 4-course meal including Filets cooked to perfection and Crème Brule for dessert, it is a meal fit for champions as the evening includes some choice beverages and shared stories. The evening is capped with a group photo of those who attend.
Before entering the gauntlet on Thursday, family and friends are involved in the Par-3 event on Wednesday afternoon. The players have their kids, spouses and others put on the caddie suits and carry the four clubs to get around the 9-hole track. The course, which is a par-27, is in pristine shape and the pin placements are put in places where aces are the norm and the roars match those heard late Sunday afternoon.
Ball Parks and Arenas have vendors that sell anything from M&M’s to chicken wings. Prices can be outrageous as well. I mean who wants to pay $12.00 for a beer, but you are stuck there and they know it. Augusta, which is fully funded by the membership, has a menu that includes Pimento Cheese sandwiches for $1.50 and Import Beers for $3.50. Those prices are ridiculously cheap and they have stayed at that price for years.
Finally, the most important thing about attending the Masters is the fans. Just imagine attending church and the atmosphere surrounding it. There is a respect for others as well as those preaching. It is very similar to Augusta as the fans are respectfully quiet and very positive in cheering when good shots are made. People have sat in the same area on the same golf hole for years, just like your spot in your favorite pew during Sunday service. It is a wonderful venue and no other tournament can match it.
As you can see, I am so passionate about this event. I remember Nicklaus’ win in 1986. I remember seeing my boy Freddy Couples get the green jacket in ’92. Watching a young Spaniard names Seve Ballesteros make a living at hitting it wild off the tee but miraculously make birdie after birdie to win two championships in ’80 and ’83 made me want to be like him.
For me, IT IS a tradition unlike any other, and I will be glued to the TV again, like so many years, watching an event that I truly love … The Masters.