The World Series? We like it. The Super Bowl? So good we buy new flatscreens every year. The Olympics? Epic — but occasional! Therefore, allow us to present the 18 reasons why the Masters at Augusta National is sports’ greatest event.
18. THE MOMENTS
Even if we weren’t there to watch it, we’re all first-hand witnesses to Jack Nicklaus’s yes-sir! putt; to Larry Mize’s chip-in; to Phil Mickelson’s six-iron from the pine straw. Like no other tournament, the Masters leaves a highlight reel of historic moments that plays vividly in all our minds.
17. THE WEBSITE
There is virtually nothing like the Masters. Literally. Witness the game’s slickest tournament website, with its interactive player-tracking and high-def live streaming. Like Augusta’s greens, it’s lightning-quick — but a whole lot easier to navigate.
16. THE AMATEURS
From their arrival at the Crow’s Nest to the closing ceremonies, they are stitched into the fabric of the Masters, just as Bobby Jones intended. Amateurs are welcome at other majors, but nowhere else are they so firmly embraced.
15. THE ANTICIPATION
They say the Masters doesn’t start until the back nine on Sunday, but the buildup begins months in advance. The first promos, filtering through the airwaves in the heart of winter, fill us with promise: Spring is fast approaching, and golf’s great vernal ritual will soon be here again.
14. THE FIELD
Sixty-one-year-old Bernhard Langer of Germany will be there; so will teenage amateur Devon Bling. Both represent an invitational with sweeping geographic and generational reach. Other tournaments have tougher fields, but the Masters is the finest illustration of golf as a cherished game of a lifetime, played avidly around the globe.
13. THE MYTHOLOGY
Every sporting event is a form of escapism. But this is especially true of the Masters. In this idealized setting, the world’s problems recede, the birdsong never ceases and Jim Nantz regards us all as “friends.” That we know this to be fiction does nothing to spoil the fantasy or fun.
12. THE BRIDGES
The grounds abound in historic landmarks — a pond named for a President, a plaque honoring Jack — but none stand out quite like the Hogan, Sarazen and Nelson Bridges. More than footpaths, they are precisely perfect metaphors: spans that link the present to the past.
11. THE SOUNDS
On Sunday afternoon, in the natural amphitheater of the National, the Masters gives rise to golf’s most stirring soundtrack, the pin-drop silence shifting to excited murmurs and explosive celebrations that swell and subside. The things you hear — and don’t hear — are as telling and compelling as any sporting action your eyes might see.
10. THE GROUND RULES
No running. No cell phones. No acting like a yahoo. Call them fuddy-duddies, but credit the green jackets for preserving a throwback sense of decorum. There are lots of other places for staging caddie races, snapping selfies and mindlessly screaming “You da man!”
9. THE PAR-3 CONTEST
It’s the Masters in miniature, without the pressure, with kids and wives doubling as caddies, and players skipping shots across the ponds. No one who ever won it claimed the green jacket the same year, but just competing in it is a win- win.
8. THE MINIMAL COMMERCIAL INTERRUPTIONS
No 60-second spots starring beer-chugging frat boys or middle-age men with erectile dysfunction. Just a brief, tasteful word from one of the few sponsors, then back to the action and the whispered commentary.
7. MAGNOLIA LANE
When is a beautiful drive also a great approach? When you’re easing down the game’s most fabled entrance, a white clubhouse framed in the near-distance by a sun-dappled arcade of flowering trees.
6. THE CONCESSIONS
Price-gouging on grub is a longstanding sports tradition. But not on the grounds of Augusta National, where a pimento cheese sandwich fetches $1.50. Never mind that it tastes like Elmer’s Glue. Another $3 gets you a beer to wash it down.
5. THE GREEN JACKET
In any other context, a sport coat the color of a Jägermeister bottle would be a cheesy fashion statement worthy of Al Czervik. But slipped onto the winner of the tournament, it acquires an aura of Arnold Palmer cool.
4. AMEN CORNER
The three-hole stretch where Rae’s Creek meets the golf course ranks among the game’s holiest of holy places. To see it on TV is inspiring. To experience it in person is as close to spiritual as sports-watching gets.
3. THE THEME MUSIC
It’s a song that’s inseparable from the occasion, the golf world’s version of “Here Comes the Bride.” Sappy? Maybe. But its strains are also soothing and reassuring, a cue to all those listening that something wonderful is underway.
2. THE HONORARY STARTERS
Only their achievements are immortal. The power of these moments lies in that fact. Since 1963, when Jock Hutchison and Fred McLeod struck the first symbolic tee shots, only seven other greats have carried out the role that Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player fill today. Like Nelson, Palmer, Snead, Sarazen and Venturi before them, they won’t be here forever. But we watch them knowing that their legacies will last.
1. THE COURSE, OF COURSE
For all of the umpteen tweaks made throughout the decades — greens and tees rebuilt, fairways stretched and tightened — the beautiful bones remain, majestic and unmistakable, very much as Bobby Jones and Alister MacKenzie arranged them. Other majors can be staged on any number of courses. The Masters can unfold nowhere else.