The surest sign that spring is near, at least here in the great white north, comes right about the time CBS airs its first commercials for the Masters Golf Tournament. You know, the one with the tagline: "A tradition unlike any other, the Masters on CBS." And, once the event is underway, we here in Michigan know that our favorite season, spring, is as well.
In order to have placed the Masters Golf Tournament on the very top of my list of favorite sporting events, I have had to look beyond a sordid past of cronyism and bigotry at Augusta National. This is no simple task for a golf nut with a social conscience.
The big tournament in Augusta, Georgia, was not even called the Masters until 1939 when its co-founder, the great Bobby Jones, gave his consent to the moniker. Since then, Bobby's tournament has risen to prominence and has become arguably the number one golf tournament in the world. Players from numerous countries all around the world from Fiji to Florida have become champions of the Masters. But, that is where the diversity ends.
Since the inception of the Club, in the early 1930s, Augusta National has been a club for millionaire males only--currently a mere 300 of them. Not only that, but Augusta National did not have any African-American members until 1990, when it succumbed to outside pressure. In the last couple of years, however, the Club's president, Hootie Johnson, has defied his critics by standing firm on his all male policy. Three years ago, Martha Burk, from the National Organization of Women (NOW), staged a protest at the course during the Masters, having already implored golf's best players to sit out the tournament--no one did, however. In spite of the media circus that ensued, Hootie held fast to his constitutional right to this perceived misogynist policy.
Making a case against Hootie and his cronies for being less than cosmopolitan is rather simple. But, one need not cite his exclusion of women as evidence. The exclusion of women from certain male stomping grounds, and vice versa, is hardly traumatic when it comes right down to it. Men and women tend to find spaces and times to be with their gender fellows, and what is wrong with that? I don't have a single problem with a national chain of fitness centers that is just for women (Curves), I think it's great. I am sure there is no shortage of women out there who would like to exercise in peace, without being courted by any number of male seekers; and the same goes for men, we like having a place to call our own. Furthermore, it is Hootie's constitutional right to declare his club male only because Augusta National is a private club on private property in the free states of America.
In spite of this, there is an all too evident sense of elitism that seeps between every blade of grass on that course. First of all, the Masters Tournament is the most exclusionary Major tournament in the world; less than 100 are invited to participate, including archaic past champions who can barely walk the course--just ask Billy Casper who shot a 57 on the back nine last year. In other words, worthy players get left out of the tournament so Old Man River can wreak havoc on the course. In short, while players like Tiger Woods and Chris Dimarco are attacking the pin, players like Tommy Aaron and Gary Player are attacking the galleries.
Hopefully Hootie Johnson will not read the previous paragraph; in it, I violated three very specific and very traumatic rules with respect to the Masters Golf tournament:
Violation #1: I referred to the second nine holes as the "back nine." This is a rule that is never violated by Jim Nance and the crew at CBS--they know better.
Violation #2: I referenced "the pin" in the last sentence. Hootie and the Boys do not appreciate the use of this term; the preferred nomenclature is "hole position." I hope you are keeping notes.
Violation #3: Also in the last sentence, I made reference to the "galleries"--this was a grievous error on my part. There are galleries at every other tournament in the world; at Augusta, there are "patrons."
If you think I'm kidding about these seemingly innocuous little ordinances, just ask CBS's most affable golf commentator, Gary McCord, why he is not allowed to commentate at Augusta during the Masters. (The rumor was that Hootie and the Fatcats where none to happy with his characterization of Augusta's fast greens as being covered in "bikini wax.") Anything less than Gary McCord, including Gary himself, would be uncivilized.
So, it's not as if Augusta's reputation as elitist is unfounded. The course has an unsavory history of smugness at best, bigotry at worst. But, in order to enjoy the Masters for what it is, one must be able to overlook this sordid past and just watch golf. I, for one, consider the Masters Tournament to be my only acquaintance with the Bourgeoisie in this country--and one is enough.