Greason: You can’t beat Augusta National
Elizabeth Greason | Friday, November 18, 2016
“A tradition unlike any other.”
Maybe it’s just me, but I get chills when I hear that phrase. Immediately, visions of cherry blossoms, Magnolia Lane and Hogan Bridge spring to mind. The famed soundtrack begins to play on loop in my head. And, once again, the feeling of intense longing returns: a burning desire to step foot on the grounds of Augusta National Golf Club.
There is no doubt in my mind that Augusta National is not only the greatest venue in golf, but in sports. The Masters motto says it all: There is no comparison playing a round of golf at Augusta National to any professional athlete stepping onto the field, the ice or the track at any other venue.
Golf courses are unique venues in the sense that they are meant to be accessible. The Old Course at St. Andrew’s, Pebble Beach, Bethpage Black — anyone can play them if they’re willing to pay the price. But I could never step onto the court at Madison Square Garden to play a pick-up game of three-on-three basketball or detour from my commute to take a spin around Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The idea that golf courses are more attainable to you and me, the regular people, inherently make them superior to other venues. AT&T Stadium was built for a core group of 22 people and their opponents to use and for everyone else to watch. Where’s the fun in that? Golf courses are interactive, whereas other venues are passive.
Augusta is the pinnacle of sports venues because it takes the accessibility that makes golf so special and pulls it just out of reach. The world gets to appreciate the difficulty and perfection that defines Augusta National four days a year and throughout those four days, there are constant reminders of the club’s exclusivity. Viewers get a sneak peek at the course during the Masters, but also know that they will never experience first-hand the subtleties in the greens that cause the best golfers in the world to miss tap-ins.
For many professionals, just the idea of stepping onto the first tee at Augusta, the idea of opening the letter that begins “The Board of Governors of the Augusta National Golf Club cordially invites you…”, even of shanking a ball in Rae’s Creek constitutes the height of their careers. To be invited to play in the Masters is a mark of achievement. It automatically categorizes you as one of the best and puts you in the company of the greatest golfers of all time. And for the vast majority of people, the only way to ever play Augusta National would be by becoming one of the top golfers in the world because of its stringent membership policies.
So much of the allure of Augusta National comes from the mystique surrounding the club. Until a few short years ago, the club was exclusively male. When it finally admitted its first female members in 2012, it became even more clear than it had been in the past, that you have to be someone to be a member. You have to be someone who matters, like Condoleezza Rice, and you have to willing to part with a significant sum of money for membership dues each year, like Warren Buffet. You need to rich or powerful. Or even better, both. And this makes Augusta National even more out of reach for us mere mortals.
Augusta hosts the biggest event in golf year after year. Golfers who have played in the Masters every year since they made their Tour debut are still confounded by the course’s nuances. I would be willing to guess that there is no one alive today who would say they have conquered Augusta National — that they have the course figured out. That’s something that other venues simply cannot provide. You can play football, baseball, basketball and hockey in any number of places and get the same results. The Super Bowl would largely have the same result whether it was played at Jerry World or at a local middle school. But the same cannot be said for Augusta. The venue makes the tournament. The Masters cannot be played anywhere else. I understand the appeal of the huge venues: the loud, bustling stadiums, the energetic arenas, the roaring racetracks. But Augusta National is the only venue that has it all: the history, the mystery, the publicity, the secrecy and the intangibility.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.