It’s no surprise that Augusta National felt the need to trademark Jim Nantz’s famous Masters line – “it’s a tradition unlike any other”- because it’s a place unlike any other, in how far it goes to maintain its mythical reputation year after year.
For the record, I love the Masters. Ordinarily the year’s first Major, I look forward to it most. I get excited about it. I love the routing, I love watching how it evolves and how the players evolve to meet it. I’m absorbed by the drama of it. How dreams shatter around Amen Corner and how hope springs eternal if you come through it unscathed. I love the roars, the energy and the scenarios down the stretch that the tournament throws up time after time each year. But everything else? Let’s just say, much like how the famous sub air systems can suck the moisture out of the soil around Augusta, listening to the cheerleaders on TV wax lyrical at the behest of the green jacket brigade sucks the life out of me.
The preamble to this year’s tournament might’ve been the most nauseating yet; promotional videos of the mechanically flawless locks protecting the Pearly Gates of heaven – Augusta National – so receptive to a key, how it turns, the fluidity of it, no need for WD-40, the locks around Augusta lubricate themselves, warm to the touch, even in the depths of winter, and oh how the gates swing open without so much as a squeak. Welcome to the Cathedral in the Pines. Heaven on Earth. Augusta National.
Meanwhile, out in the real world on any normal Masters week, Washington Road is wedged with people – mostly middle-aged men guzzling beers and eating burgers, ogling the supple breasts of John Daly outside of Hooters selling t-shirts from his van.
It’s up to the gatekeepers of Augusta to keep such frivolous scenes at bay and to do that, they’ve created golf’s equivalent to the Truman Show, a multi-million dollar production where a bunch of old guys in green jackets swan around abiding by a list of rules almost as long as those that govern the sport itself. They are the guardians of the realm, and the mythology is the director. Much like in the Truman Show where Jim Carrey’s character is part of a social experiment, existing inside a man-made bubble – a world created solely around him – Augusta National in itself is a studio rolled out once a year for the riff-raff to fawn over.
It’s a secret world where nothing short of perfection will do. If the grass isn’t green, they paint it green. If the water is looking murky, they’ll dye it blue. If the birds don’t chirp, they plant stereos amongst the Magnolias and make them sing. It’s a place where the azaleas bloom on command every April regardless of the weather – I’m surprised they didn’t have some saved in the freezer especially for this year. Instead, we have Augusta in the fall, but that doesn’t mean our ears will be spared. Prepare yourselves for otherworldly descriptions of autumnal hues, dazzling electric coppers and organic rusts, seasonal splashes that the Dulux paint chart never thought possible.
I understand there’s a directive put out to the media never to use Augusta National’s name in vain by comparing it to any other golf course, so I won’t, but I was so taken by a dumping of autumn colour on my jog around the Phoenix Park this morning that I almost snotted myself in an idyllic collection of fallen leaves. I refuse to believe the leaves around Augusta National are any more spectacular, regardless of the scenes reflected in Butch Harmon’s razor sharp eye.
In fact, it’s very hard to believe anything that anyone tells you from inside those pearly gates because just by being there, you’ve been handed a golden ticket to the chocolate factory, and only a fool would risk losing that. You only had to tune into the pre-tournament press conferences of the players fresh from learning a few superlatives off by heart to appease the watching green coats to see what I mean. The players dare not speak ill of the golf course. When they have done in the past, they’ve swiftly apologised, tail between legs ala Sergio in ’09. Meanwhile the members of the press are so stuffed up on sandwiches in a media centre more akin to the Taj Mahal than a press office that they’ll go along with just about anything for fear of missing out on dessert.
All of which means it won’t be until after the most unintentionally funny/cringe-inducing winner’s ceremony in sport, where the latest recruit to the Stonecutters secret society gets draped in a green coat in the Butler Cabin, that golf analysts wake up from their azalea induced comas and smell the bloody roses.
Now, would you believe me if I told you I’d never been invited to Augusta? But I don’t hold that against anyone. In fact, for all its quirks, I love the Masters, I really do. In spite of itself… and in spite of myself. And perhaps that’s the biggest compliment I can pay the tournament; that in spite of all the artificial bollocksology, the elitist façade, the dark past and the penchant for propaganda and censorship, it still comes up trumps, for me at least, over every other tournament year on year.
Work that one out because for me, it remains a source of confusion, unlike any other… a rite of spring. Wait, what the hell is this? The azaleas and dogwoods waking the world from a winter slumber. And although this November will pass without patrons, with roars replaced by reflection… what in god’s name is happening here? Like for the rest of the world, there is hope… I swear I’m not typing any of this. My fingers aren’t even mov… that in time, the things we cherish most will feel familiar to us again, and our annual tradition, unlike any other, for one year at least, will be a Fall classic… Welcome to the Masters!
Listen to our Masters preview Podcast featuring James Sugrue, Paul McGinley, Graeme McDowell by clicking the cover below or click HERE