­­­­­­­­­­­­­Augusta National:  The Tradition That Always Delivers

Posted on April 15, 2022 by Martin Oaks under Community, Memorial
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After a two-year hiatus, The Masters returned to pre-pandemic form this year. The patrons flocked to Augusta National in full force.  For a few blessed April days, the world of beauty, order, and civility emanated from that beloved golfing cathedral.

We may not have fully escaped the COVID-19 nightmare, but it was good to be back in the light of normalcy for even a brief time.

The newly crowned, twenty-five year old winner, Scottie Scheffler, shot a crackling ten under par 278, finishing three strokes ahead of Rory McIlroy.  The latter provided final round fireworks with a truly impressive sixty-four, one shot off the course record.  Added to all this drama was the miraculous play of the indestructible Tiger Woods.

Scheffler appeared to march through the tournament with stoic maturity, only to confess afterwards that, early Sunday morning, jitters had reduced him to tears.

“Playing with a lead is not easy, especially in a golf tournament like this one,” Scheffler said.  “Off the golf course it’s stressful.  On the course it’s a heck of a lot of fun…it’s Augusta National.  It’s about as cool as it gets. This golf course and this tournament are just different.”

Although he is too young to know it, Sheffler made a comment that echoed, almost word-for-word, what another fine champion, Sam Sneed, said seventy years ago.

“If you probably took a straw poll of the guys on the Tour what golf tournament they would want to win, it would be The Masters,” Scheffler said.

Sneed’s exact words were: “If you asked golfers what tournament they would rather win over all others, I think every one of them to a man would say The Masters.”

There is no other golf event that comes close to The Masters in terms of fan support.  Aside from the privileged throng on hand in Augusta, the tournament is a television ratings jackpot.  The final round is always the most watched golf event of the season — this year, CBS reported the last day drew an average of more than ten million viewers, up seven percent from 2021.  More than thirteen million viewed the last fifteen minutes of this year’s broadcast when Scheffler took the victory walk to the eighteenth green.  He was greeted with a goose-pimple-raising sustained roar from the gallery.

The enduring success of The Masters is directly related to the vision of the tournament’s co-founders, golfing legend Bobby Jones and investment banker Cliff Roberts.  From the very beginning in 1934, Jones and Roberts understood that three objectives had to be accomplished to make The Masters a premier national showcase:    a magnificent course, top drawer talent, and pampered fans in a well-ordered environment.  Roberts was particularly keen on the last point.

David Owen put it this way in The Making of The Masters: “Roberts said that the hospitality for which The Masters is legendary had been the product of necessity.  To sell enough tickets to cover the costs, the club had to pamper spectators.  The prices had to be low, the food had to be good, the views had to be unobstructed, the course had to be perfect, the bathrooms had to be clean.  Roberts built The Masters in the same way successful entrepreneurs have always built businesses: by focusing on the needs of his customers.”

Robert’s fabled attention to detail served the tournament well.  He instituted strict rules of conduct that applied to the patrons, the players, and even extended to those providing television coverage. These guidelines have remained largely unchanged through the years.

The decorum of those in the gallery would please Queen Victoria.  Patrons are not allowed to run, carry cell phones, wear jeans, lie on the ground, or go barefoot.

The pros, likewise, are held to extraordinary standards.  For example, the winner is presented the coveted green jacket in Butler Cabin immediately following the tournament.  The coat used in the ceremony is a generic one.  The custom made version, stitched with the winner’s name, is given to the player at a later date.  The winner is only allowed to keep the jacket at home for one year, and is required to return it the following April.  The jacket is then kept at Augusta, where the winners can wear them at the club during official events.

In 1962, Gary Player forgot to bring his custom jacket back.  As he lived in South Africa at the time, there was no quick resolution to this breach.  A stern Roberts met with Player and the two reached a compromise — Player could store the coat at his home in a garment bag until the next spring.  He was not allowed to put it on again until it had been returned to Augusta.

Roberts’ prescience was particularly valuable when it came to assigning media rights.  The first tournament was televised by CBS in 1956 over loud objections from those in the golfing world.   According to David Owen, after the tournament, champion golfer Byron Nelson wrote Roberts to complain that the cameras and television personnel intruded on the competition.  Roberts, who was strongly convinced television was going to revolutionize the sport, told Nelson the exposure was absolutely necessary to “turn the poorly paid itinerant players …into true professional athletes.”  (And, eventually, into millionaires.)

When it came to the telecasts themselves, Roberts’ genius really emerged.  No outside business executive has ever had more influence on a network presentation of a sporting event.  Roberts had all the cards: he was willing to leave money on the table in exchange for control of the content.  CBS officials had never dealt with anyone like him — they were accustomed to battling over dollars, not quality.

Limited commercial interruption was central to Roberts’ demands:  four minutes an hour by global companies and no local commercials.

Roberts was also particular about what broadcasters said during the telecast.  For example, fans must be called patrons and traps referred to as bunkers.  The list was lengthy but the result became the gold standard in golf telecasting.

The Masters.  A tradition unlike any other, as Jim Nantz of CBS Sports says every year.    This famous description may be intoned by Nantz, but the words are actually trademarked by Augusta National.  This should surprise no one.

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