The Masters has pretty much always been a tournament that didn’t care whether people watched it or not. It is played on one of the most exclusive courses at one of the most exclusive clubs in the entire country – Augusta National Golf Club only has about 300 members. They even dropped corporate sponsorship entirely in 2002 and played the next couple of tournaments with no commercials at all because they could and because they bristled at being told whom to admit to their precious club.
Even now there are few commercial interruptions, supposedly so we can drink in more of the Augusta National experience on television. And also, unlike other tournaments at other courses, they don’t need the same kind of advertising income.
In truth, The Masters on television with “fewer commercial interruptions” etc. is just Augusta National Golf Club flaunting its exclusivity on television some more, so we plebs who couldn’t score tickets can gawk a little more at the neon green grass and this special golf course the players can’t stop gushing about. But it is us, not the club, not the PGA, not the other golfers in the tournament, but us – the fans – who give this ridiculous spectacle meaning beyond being a simple golf tournament played on a golf course.
Even now, when the club’s president Billy Payne is again dealing with questions about allowing women to join the club, it is the press, readers and fans who give this issue meaning. This has been an issue of national interest for about a decade, but it’s time to ask ourselves why we care what Augusta National does with its membership.
The controversy over the club deciding to admit (or not admit) female members in 2002 is actually a part of this overblown mythos of Augusta National, not at attempt to undermine it. No one should have cared in the first place what the hell the club does with its members. We can all agree the membership there is elitist and offensive (Augusta National did not admit an African-American member until 1990), and we can ridicule the club as an antiquated, sexist organization all we want.
That’s our right as people just like it is the club’s right to admit or not admit whomever the hell they want. It doesn’t make them right to exclude women or just be snobbish pricks about people asking questions about their membership. And it certainly doesn’t reflect mainstream American views.
But it’s also just a golf club. Getting any more emotionally involved in its membership issues is just silly. The only power this club has it that it has a golf course most people aren’t allowed to play on. If no one cares about the course anymore, about the names for each individual hole, or about “Amen Corner,” then Augusta National loses all their power. As Eric Cartman proved, you can’t survive long without other people at your amusement park.
Besides, there are plenty of exclusive golf clubs out there. Cypress Point Club in Monterey, CA has a course that is at least as storied as Augusta National and an exclusive club to go with it. In fact, the club is so exclusive that they withdrew their involvement from the AT&T Pro-Am, which used to be held at Cypress Point, Spyglass Hill and Pebble Beach, because they didn’t want the tournament sponsors dictating to them about membership. So now there have been no PGA tournaments at Cypress Point since like 1993. Does anyone really care that much? Not really Sure, we don’t get to see the course on television, but that’s not exactly a major life experience anyway.
This shows that Augusta National really does need us to watch every year and to participate in the mythologizing the broadcasters and golfers do every time this tournament comes around. They want to be exclusive in a way that makes us care very much that they are, in fact, exclusive. Pretty manipulative for a golf club that lives largely off money from sponsors and fans.
Everything about this week’s broadcasts, and the tournament in general, is designed to evoke some sort of grandeur and extra meaning to The Masters beyond what the usual importance is for a major tournament. The Masters even has its own song with lyrics that is used exactly once a year on the broadcasts. Unlike other tournaments, The Masters begins its coverage at 3 pm ET, hours and hours after most tournaments begin their broadcasts. After all, most places want to show you as much of the tournament as possible, thus showcasing the course and the area. Places like Pinehurst are resorts that need tourists, after all. Augusta National isn’t even open to members for much of the year. It’s so exclusive that it’s too good even for members during the winter. It is the fact that our view of Augusta National is so short that makes people want to tune in all the more.
There are also traditions that come with The Masters every year, like Wednesday’s par 3 tournament, some one getting to stay in the “crow’s nest,” and the Champion’s Dinner. It’s symbolic all by itself that the players’ children are always dressed not as golfers, but in the white coveralls of the caddies, but it’s hard for me to talk about that without sounding like Trotsky.
None of this really matters at all until we, the viewers, give it meaning. Until we care. And frankly, I am beginning to have trouble coming up with a reason why I should care anymore. The Masters seemingly goes out of its way to seem special and exclusive, yet membership fees are reportedly cheap (comparatively) because the club can survive on revenue from the broadcast.
I’m not saying I don’t care about The Masters. I love golf and religiously watch all the majors. I’m also not saying Augusta National should be less exclusive. Not only is it their right, but seriously, it’s still just a golf course. Given enough money, I could reconstruct it hole for hole, tree for tree in my backyard and not let ANYONE in. Or everyone. Whatever the hell I feel like on any given day.
I just don’t want to participate in the mythologizing anymore. It’s just a golf tournament played on a course that doesn’t want us there, but needs us to keep buying in every year so they can be “special.” That’s it.
The only thing that makes Augusta National special is the names attached to it and its exclusivity. Much of the draw for The Masters is that it’s played on a course we can only get a glimpse of for these five days out of the year. Most people have no hope of ever setting foot on this course. And while that’s true for many of the courses used for PGA events, The Masters is even more exclusive because it only invites winners and top-ranked players to the tournament every year.
It’s also a relic of a time when golf was not thought to be a sport for “everyone.” When club members at certain courses handed out rules for decorum to fans entering the grounds for the tournament. When golf clubs were formed exactly so only certain people could go there. It just so happens the traditions there never changed because they didn’t have to. There I go sounding like Lenin again, but if the PGA actually gave a crap about Augusta’s policies, it would stop making The Masters a money event on the tour and withdraw any association. If the players really cared, they would stop playing in the tournament. If we really cared, we’d stop watching the tournament. But no one seems to really care, so let’s stop pretending this is anything beyond a golf tournament played on a golf course.
So yeah, I’m going to watch as much of The Masters as I can. I’m going to root for my guys (Phil Mickelson,
Jeff Overton and Graeme McDowell) and watch who wins on Sunday. But I’m going to do that for every tournament.
I will not pretend that this somehow matters more because it’s at Augusta National or that the course is somehow more awesome just because it’s Augusta National and Bobby Jones had a hand in designing it. It’s just a freaking golf tournament. Let’s treat it like one and reject those who would invent any deeper meaning than that.