Sunday, April 12, 2015

A Tradition Unlike Any Other

In March of last year I was exchanging text messages with a friend about how twice in the last five years my birthday was cursed. My brother-in-law died on my birthday back in 2009, and that year, 2014, while away on a cruise with the family our cat died on my birthday as well. After the usual "I'm sorry to hear that" / "That sucks" type comments that two friends such as the two of us would exchange, he sends me this: "We have to get you a new birthday."

He tossed out a few ideas including the Sunday of The Open Championship, which has some sentimental value to me as the weekend of The Open is the time when a group of guys from university all gather at his cottage to just be guys and drink, golf, water ski, and eat steak (and unhealthy amounts of Peanut M&M's). Realizing that July was a tad too removed from my March birthday he found the solution: Masters Sunday. 

Masters Sunday was perfect. I LOVE The Masters. Love it. The Masters means spring is here. It's usually warm enough to get up on the roof and take down the Christmas lights. The NHL playoffs and the quest for the Stanley Cup are but days away. The Masters is home to some of my favourite golf memories (watching, not playing, obviously). Going to see a round at The Masters is on my bucket list.


I'm claiming fair use of this logo but if that doesn't fly,
Augusta National, please don't sue me.
I would still celebrate my birthday in March, of course, but since 2009 it lost a bit of its lustre. My friend's thought was that if I received a text message wishing me a happy birthday on Masters Sunday that some of the lustre could be restored. He was right. The afternoon of Sunday, April 13, 2014, while I was watching Bubba Watson on his way to his first Masters victory I received my first Masters birthday text. I should have taken a screen capture or saved the text or something, but for some reason I didn't. The memory will have to suffice and I'm documenting it here, now, before my memories one day fail me. 

Jim Nantz once famously said of The Masters, "It's a tradition unlike any other." He was right, too. 

This whole thing got me thinking about some of the other traditions this particular tournament embraces and how this wasn't always a good thing. Keeping things positive for a moment we have the tradition of the amateurs invited to the tournament and how they get to stay on the grounds in the famous Crow's Nest. I can only imagine the feeling of being a teenager or newly minted twenty-something amateur golfer and getting to play that course and stay on-site. 

Another famous tradition is the Par 3 Contest. Held the Wednesday immediately before the first day of competition golfers play the Par 3 course at Augusta National with their kids as caddies. Players without children often use a parent or sibling or sometimes a celebrity they happen to be friends with. There's a prize awarded to the winner of a crystal bowl but many of the players forego their chance at winning by letting their kids putt out on some of the holes. Aside from the awesome father / child experience this creates, taking themselves out of of the Par 3 competition has other advantages as no winner of the Par 3 Contest has ever gone on to win The Masters in the same week. 

Of course, traditions are all fine and dandy so long as we're not doing them because "that's the way we've always done it" or out of bigotry, racism, or fear. When this happens, at best, we end up as a bunch of monkeys that won't go up a ladder and don't know why

Augusta National's membership is by invitation only (it's a private club and there is no application process) and for a long time invitations were only extended to powerful or influential men. White men (their caddie policy was spectacularly racist until 1983 as well). That changed in 1990 when invitations started to go out to black men and other non-whites as well. 

In 2002 there was a famous disagreement between then Augusta chairman Hootie Johnson and Martha Burke regarding the exclusion of women from the club. The dust up between the two resulted in The Masters airing commercial free for two years to avoid putting the sponsors in the position of having to pull their support for a tournament that was not gender inclusive. In spite of this, sponsors were on board again in 2005 and the club still didn't have a single female member (citing other such clubs as the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America, college sororities, and the Junior League as examples of other gender specific organizations). However, in 2012 Augusta National invited two women into its club: Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore

So, Augusta National changed (albeit at a glacial pace, but they changed) and is still filled with many traditions that can be appreciated by golfers and golf fans all over the world. 

Happy Birthday to me!

~ Andrew

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