No Airships Overlooking The Masters

By: Bob Spiwak

The Masters golf tournament, probably the most watched on television worldwide, begins today. Played on one of the most gorgeous non-seaside locations on the globe, it is unique in golf in many ways. Whereas most tournaments trumpet loudly the bundles of cash that will be won by all who make the cut, especially the top 10, money talk at Augusta National, home of The Masters, is verboten. Any other place, the people who flock to watch are known usually as “Gallery,” or simply spectators. You will not hear those words spoken on The Masters telecast. These people are Patrons, and woe be unto the announcer who makes a slip and refers to the paid customers as anything other.

So rigid are the rules at this tournament that a few years ago, CBS’s favorite golf broadcaster, Gary McCord, was barred by the tournament from broadcasting any other future contests. He referred to the greens as “…being as slick as bikini wax.” I believe he also referred to the patrons, collectively, as hordes of people, which only earned him more demerits.

You watch the action at almost any other event and you’ll see, with frequent credit, an airship (or blimp) hovering above, emblazoned with a sponsor’s name, which is most of these days the Outback Steakhouse. Goodyear used to do it, as did Fuji. Anyhow, their views give birds-eye pictures of the action from above, but also digress to pictures of the lovely scenery in the area. Of course, Pebble Beach comes to mind with shots of seaside cliffs, sea otters, surfers, and crashing ocean waves. The broad view.

At Augusta National the course is hidden behind a very high and thick hedge, with few entry gates and a phalanx of Pinkerton guards and course security personnel. It is a well-guarded land of its own. Outside is another matter.

If there were to be an overall view of the course, not only would it show the lush green of the playing area, and the masses of azaleas and dogwoods in bloom, the view would leak to beyond the hedge and show crass commercialism. As indicated earlier, The Masters does not do “commercial.” Granted, the souvenir tent, which I have frequented on four occasions, has lines of people waiting to purchase something of the tournament, even when the play is in progress: The line seems never to get any shorter. The prices are fairer than at most local and resort courses, as are the Masters-green wrapped sandwiches.

But, running about seven miles outside the hallowed entry gates of Augusta National Golf Club is Washington Boulevard. It is a big mess of strip malls and, during tournament time, the tentacles of commerce – like a fungal infection – reach down the streets feeding the Boulevard for a mile on either side of the course. Counterfeit passes (which won’t work) are sold before the cops get to the sellers. Replica Augusta National flags, pins, towels, caps – all manner of souvenirs – are hawked. Any vacant space becomes a parking area; the closer you get, the more they cost. My press day pass would not allow entry to the media parking lot, and I ended up on someone’s lawn under a scraggly tree that scratched the rental car. The price was a reasonable fourteen dollars.

The strip is an embarrassment to the club, almost a proclamation of Barbarians at the Gate. Once inside, it’s like a different world. That’s the way they want it, and that’s why you won’t get a glimpse of anything beyond those well-guarded gates. And maybe that is a good thing.

Bob Spiwak took up golf in 1953 as a respite from the rigors of selling bibles door-to-door in North Dakota. Though suffering a four-year lapse, he’s back to being a fanatical golfer. Spiwak has written articles for almost every golf magazine in the Western world, although few have been published (not true). Bob’s most treasured golf antiquity is a nod he got from Gerald Ford at the 1990 Golf Summit. Spiwak lives in Mazama, Wash., with his wife and several pets next to his fabled ultraprivate Whispering Rattlesnakes Golf & Flubbers Club.