Day 465: It’s Masters Week!

originally published April 9, 2013

“You ever watch golf on television? It’s like watching flies fuck.”

Okay, so maybe George Carlin – a noted loather of the game – was exaggerating a little. I have spent enough time watching both activities to confidently assert that the two are totally unrelated. Flies can complete the act of copulation, foreplay and post-coital cigarette included, in less than nine seconds. Watching golf is much more of an endurance exercise.

Things have changed in the world of broadcast golf though. No longer must we squint at tiny ball-specks against a blue sky, then have to sit through five minutes of people walking, choosing clubs and squinting at the fairway. The networks keep cameras on every golfer now, and the cuts between the action are much swifter, much more viewer-friendly than when I was a kid.

And so the golf-lovers of the world will turn their attention to Augusta, Georgia this week, in honor of the 77th Masters Tournament.

(also the time of year when Tiger Woods annually pitches a piece of his eternal soul into the Well of Souls in a plea for public forgetfulness)

The Masters is the first of the four important golf tournaments held every year. It’s invite-only, which keeps the numbers down, so if you’re looking to tentatively poke your nose back into the world of TV golf, this will be the best weekend to get to know the competitors. Don’t be shy – watching golf may not be a thrill-a-minute as some other sports, like pro football, pro hockey, or pro blindfolded high-wire fire-jousting, but it still beats almost any reality show on any other channel.

And it’s still more exciting than curling. Seriously, fuck curling.

There are some valid reasons why, if you’re a sports fan, it might be time to give televised golf another try this week. The scenery at the Augusta National Golf Club is nothing less than stunning, which is particularly inspiring to those of us whose “spring” is nestled snugly between snow-laden quotation marks for at least another few weeks. The final round usually comes down to two or three strokes – and sometimes a playoff – so there’s plenty of “thrill of victory” vs. “agony of defeat” drama at stake. Also, after reading this article, you can bore your family right out of the room with a heap of trivia about the event.

(none of which will involve reference to the weird shit older golfers like to wear)

  • One of the founders of the Masters Tournament, investment banker Clifford Roberts, committed suicide in 1977 by shooting himself on the banks of the par-3 course at Augusta. He was the club owner who famously stated, “As long as I’m alive, all the golfers will be white and all the caddies will be black.” I’m just saying, let’s not go crazy with the tears for this guy.
  • Bobby Jones, the other founder of the event, was the most successful amateur golfer in the history of the game. It’s because of him that amateur players are still given a place every year at the Masters, with the top-ranked amateur getting the opportunity to play in the same trio as the defending Masters champion for the first two rounds.
  • The tradition of the Masters winner being awarded a ceremonial green jacket dates officially back to 1949 when Sam Snead won his first of three titles. The green jacket was the official outfit for Augusta club members, and since the winner of the Masters automatically got an honorary membership, the jacket tradition made sense.
  • Winners get to take their jacket home for one year. After that, they must return the jacket to the club, where they’re allowed to wear it whenever they visit. Three golfers – Gary Player, Henry Picard and Steve Ballesteros – have broken that rule. They are unofficially known as the Badass Banditos of Pro Golf (copyright me. It’ll catch on, just watch).
  • Interesting fact – if you do a Google Images search for ‘ugly green jacket,’ as I did to find that grotesque thing above, the first image that pops up (along with several others on the first page) is a shot of the Augusta jacket.
  • Tuesday of Masters Week is when they hold the Champions’ Dinner. This is about as exclusive a meal as you’ll find in the country. The only invitees are former Masters winners and some of the higher-ups at the club. The previous year’s winner is considered ‘host’, and gets to choose the menu. Quite often the meal reflects the player’s heritage: Canadian Mike Weir offered up a feast of elk and wild boar, German Bernhard Langer opted for a Wiener Schnitzel party, and when Scotsman Sandy Lyle took advantage of his hosting duty for winning the ’88 Masters, he made the other golfers sit through a plate of haggis.
  • Before the 1998 Champions’ Dinner, 1979 winner Fuzzy Zoeller commented that ’97 winner Tiger Woods should refrain from serving collard greens and fried chicken. Yeah, golf is still one of the most racist sports in the country.
  • Speaking of racism, while the first black golfer to play in the Masters was Lee Elder in 1975, the Augusta National Golf Club had a strict no-blacks policy in its membership rules until 1990. Not a typo – 1990.
  • The club ran into trouble in 2002 when feminist Martha Burk led a large protest against Augusta’s refusal to allow female members. Augusta’s official response was something like, “Well, the Boy Scouts don’t either. So there.” This was cited by the IOC as a major strike against golf being admitted as an Olympic sport. The club has since relaxed its policy, allowing two female members: philanthropist Darla Moore and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
  • Jack Nicklaus has won six Masters, more than anyone else. Also, at 46 years old he was the oldest winner of the tournament. The youngest winner at 21 was Tiger Woods in 1997, who also broke the record for the lowest winning score (18 below par) and the widest winning margin (12 strokes) that same year.

So maybe watching golf isn’t your thing. But if you’re even curious, the Masters is a great place to start. It’s all in crisp high-def now, the coverage is thorough and well-edited, and you could do worse with your weekend daytime programming this weekend. There’s bound to be some intense drama, some nail-biting putts, and hopefully an exciting finish. Plus, the tournament is now 85% racism-free!

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