Yesterday Bubba Watson hit one of the most incredible golf shots I have ever seen to win the Masters.  It was a spectacular shot but if Bubba hit it to win the Colonial it would be a Sportscenter favorite for a day or two and then fade away.  Instead Bubba chose the second sudden death playoff hole at the Masters to hit a 130 yard shot off the pine straw with a 40 yard hook around a tree to within ten feet of the pin.  As a result both Bubba and that shot will be immortalized in not only golf lore but in the general sports consciousness.

 

What makes the Masters different from every other golf tournament?  Why does The Masters, and only The Masters, draw in the casual sports fan along with die-hard golfers? (Apologies to the US and British Opens.  They are both prestigious tournaments but are not accorded the same respect as the Masters.  At least in the States.)  I expect that everyone you ask this question would have a slightly different answer.  Some people might point to the course itself with its beautiful scenery and awesome atmosphere.  Others would argue that the fact that the Masters is played at the same course every year gives it more importance as every winner has conquered the same challenges.

 

Of course there is no wrong answer to this question.  Every little thing that goes into the Masters helps to make it the spectacle it is.  For me, the allure of The Masters is in its status as an event, and the culture that surrounds it.  As a 22 year old senior staring down the barrel of graduation the Masters is important for me because it shows the life I’ve had for the past four years does not have to completely end in six weeks.  I have had a great time in school. (Too good a time if you believe my parents.)  I am still unsure of my plans next year, but whatever I do I know that I will not enjoy it as much as school.  So its nice to know that for at least one week a year there is a place where grown men can blow off work to sit on a golf course, where pastel pants and visors are still acceptable attire.  Essentially I love The Masters because it’s an escape from the real world.

 

Augusta National, and by association The Masters, has come under fire recently for this exact reason.  People criticize Augusta for not keeping up with the rest of the world.  The club is still incredibly private and like most private country clubs suffers from a lack of diversity among its members.  There are no female members and minorities are not well represented either.  In an ongoing battle for women to gain membership rights at Augusta IBM has withdrawn its sponsorship for the Masters and it is possible that other companies will follow.  This has not fazed the leadership of Augusta National and if interviews with club chairman Billy Payne are any indication they will not be influenced by outside forces.

 

This is a tricky issue but one that I feel has been overblown.  It is important to remember that at its core Augusta is a small private country club that hosts an invitational tournament every year.  How exactly that invitational tournament became the most prestigious golf tournament on Earth is a question for much older and wiser men than me. (I recommend this piece by Si.com’s Joe Posnanski.)  The fact remains however that as a private club Augusta has the right to choose its members in however it pleases.  I am not sure if I agree with the decision not to allow women but it is not my call to make. Neither is it an issue for politicians or corporate leadership.  I strongly respect the fact that Augusta and The Masters have remained relatively independent of outside influences and think this is part of the appeal of the place.   And the fact of the matter is that Augusta can afford to lose a few sponsors.  Money is such a non-issue for the club that they turn down millions of dollars every year in potential TV revenue by only allowing coverage in the afternoon.

 

In one of the only Grantland pieces I disagree with Brian Phillips compares The Masters to Mad Men’s Don Draper and Roger Sterling.  Hugely successful men desperately clinging to a past that no longer exists.  This is very insightful and The Masters represents something similar to me, but unlike Phillips I do not see it as a negative.  He compares the downfall of the post-war American culture that Mad Men chronicles to the fall of the Roman Empire and implicitly sees The Masters as a symbol of the dying golf club culture.  I look at the success of the Masters every year and the desire that every golfer on the planet has to play the course as predictors of future success of the club and its signature tournament.  The Masters is not perfect but to see it as “Poisonous Nostalgia” as Phillips writes is overly cynical.  There is no harm in escaping to a beautiful golf course and dressing like you did in college for a few days and, judging by the demand for such an experience, it might be therapeutic.  The Masters is not a remnant of a dying culture but a modern day American landmark.  Phillips compares it to the Coliseum of Rome but given the natural beauty of the place, and the yearly pilgrimages it inspires, the better comparison is to the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone.  Something everyone should experience at least once.

 

I may have to spend a lot of time in the working world before I can escape to Masters Week but it comforts me to know that it is there.