This morning Deadspin republished this, a scathing article about Augusta National Golf Club and comparing it to North Korea, which is more than bit hyperbolic. I normally enjoy Deadspin’s coverage (although their immediate concern might be the $140mm that their parent company owes Hulk Hogan); they’re to be commended for some of their work even when they have rightly and correctly point out the various foibles of my beloved Toronto Maple Leafs (love them to no end but when they screw up they should be called out on it). This piece isn’t in that ballpark. By a large degree.
With that being said, I’ve always viewed The Masters Tournament favorably, mostly because of what it is and isn’t. First off, if you misbehave at Augusta National they will politely but firmly escort you off the premises. Do that in North Korea and you’re looking at a long prison sentence. Sorry but there’s no comparison. Hell, if you lived in North Korea and wrote something that critical of their government you’d be sent to a prison camp and your family would likely suffer a similar fate. I don’t think Billy Payne is rounding up journalists who’ve been critical of their doings and sending them to prison camps. They simply aren’t invited back.
A better comparison might be how most TV networks are not quick to be critical of the institutions whose TV rights they control. See how ESPN isn’t exactly lining up hit pieces on the NFL (or any network that has rights), or how Fox has all of a sudden grown awfully quiet about the shit-show that is FIFA. While we’re at it, NBC hasn’t exactly been at the forefront of being critical of the IOC and the literal shit-show that the Rio Olympics could well turn into. This isn’t new.
However, having seen more than my fair share of stupidity and violence in the stands, I’d welcome measures to make my spectating experience better. I last attended an NFL game in 2000 hosted by the Burgundy and Gold who play at FedEx Field (and while we’re at it watching the local networks tiptoe around that team’s numerous screw-ups and tone-deaf ownership is laughable). The sheer amount of violence, threats, fistfights, and a total lack of control on display at FedEx field security (and whatever police presence there was) made me fear for my physical safety (hearing three obviously intoxicated “fans” yelling ‘RAPE THAT FILTHY C***’ to a woman who happened to be a fan of the other team and wondering at what point does this go from disgusting to unworthy of allowing people to attend). You could pay me cash and I will never, ever again set foot in an NFL stadium. My guess is that female Masters patrons don’t (nor should they ever have to) endure this spectacle.
Unlike most televised sporting events, you don’t get inundated with 18-20 minutes of commercials per hour when watching on television. The Masters puts a tight limit on that, which means you’re seeing more golf which is presumably why you tune in. Compare that to the flood of commercials during any other championship event.
The writer also complained about the tight curbs that Augusta National places on the announcers, noting that Gary McCord was excused from being part of their coverage because he made his infamous “their greens aren’t mowed they’re bikini waxed” quip in 1994. While I’ll politely say I disagree with the decision, their contract that they have with CBS gives them this control. Ask Les Moonves if he’s willing to stop doing business with Augusta National; NBC/Golf Channel would be in front of Billy Payne in a nanosecond begging to get the rights and would back a brinks truck up to do so. With ESPN having 1st and 2nd round coverage, this contract also means no Chris Berman, for which I’m grateful. I’m also grateful that the announcers don’t ramble on incoherently. Let the pictures tell a story; this isn’t radio.
I had to endure Fox putting on a 4-day clinic of How Not To Cover a Major Championship last June, where their announcers weren’t exactly free-flowing in their criticisms of the golf course and the USGA. If you think Augusta National is the only entity that does this sort of thing, I’ve got some ocean-front real estate in Saskatchewan for sale.
While we’re on that subject, there are a lot of people who complain that Augusta National limits TV coverage, and would like to see the kind of all-day coverage you see during the US Open. I’ll admit to being torn. On the one hand, it would certainly draw ratings and CBS/ESPN would love to be able to show day-long action. However, there is a case to be made that this is a value proposition for the people who have tickets. Hear me out. If you attend the Super Bowl in person, you’re really not seeing much that isn’t able to be seen on TV. Tack on everything else and going to a Super Bowl is frankly as unfriendly towards paying customers as any sporting event (I can watch for free at home where I’m not waiting in a 20-minute line to use the washroom, the food’s cheaper and better at home, and if I miss something I can rewind, not to mention the almost-guaranteed fistfights that occur in the stands). I understand both sides of this argument.
Yes- Augusta National puts dye in the water, and will do what they have to do to ensure the Azaleas bloom during the week of the tournament. NFL teams will paint their grass green (the ones that haven’t gone to synthetic turf) so it looks good on TV and MLB teams mow cute patterns into their outfield grass. Shouldn’t they do what they can to have the best visuals possible when people tune in to watch (for the Rio Olympics I’m hoping they can get the feces out of the water)? Not everyone does what the USGA does and intentionally lets the course go brown because they refuse to water it (only further taxing the turf as it means they’ll have to commit a huge effort to get the course back to normal) under this folly of trying to show that they don’t use a lot of water for the golf course. It’s like skipping breakfast and then eating two lunches and two dinners.
The writer also points out that Augusta National has a lengthy list of rules that they expect their patrons (or fans) to abide by. Funny thing- the US Open has a very similar list (as does the Open Championship, PGA Championship and the Ryder Cup), except that the US Open and the Open Championship are more lenient about mobile phones (or they will be until some clown’s phone goes off in the middle of someone’s back swing with the tournament on the line). If you can’t go for several hours without your mobile phone, then maybe golf isn’t for you (hint- you can go without your mobile phone). Not for anything but Augusta National does have pay phones on premises for people to use. While we’re on the subject, patrons can set up a chair at one of the greens, leave for a few hours (or heck- get up to use the washrooms), come back and that chair won’t be moved or occupied. Any other place that chair would be discarded or occupied. Oh, and you can’t run. Nothing wrong with that- do we really want to see a stampede of people? We see this on Black Friday every year…isn’t that enough?
While we’re on the subject of fan (patron) behavior, if keeping the idiot brigade out means I can go one week without a bunch of idiots yelling random crap, I’m all for it. Somehow, cheering on your favorite player has turned into making yourself part of the scene. I tune in to watch great golf, not hear Drunky McStupid or some other over-served Golf-Bro yell “Mashed Potatoes” or whatever the hell else they think will get them on YouTube or Sportscenter. You also (mostly) avoid this at the Open Championship because the Brits (thankfully) aren’t having it. I love the loud cheers and roars for great shots, but the inbred hayseed cousin of the “YOUDAMAN!!!” needs to go away. If Spieth hits it to 6 inches or Fowler pipes one 375 yards, cheer as loud as you want, but remember- the players are the thing. Not you. Oh, you can’t bring banners or flags? Too bad. They end up obstructing the view of other fans.
Food and concessions prices are notoriously cheap at The Masters; you could eat the entire menu for $54.00. You could eat a reasonable meal off their menu for less than $6.00. A hot dog and a beer at most ballparks will set you back $15-$20. Ticket prices are downright reasonable. A weekly badge has a face value of $325.00. Let’s compare that with the Open Championship (priced at GBP260, or roughly US$366). The PGA Championship will run you $420, while the US Open will run you $450. And for what it’s worth, I priced the basic “grounds only” tickets.
Now let’s talk about their membership policy. Last I checked, they’re a private club. It’s their business. This is how private clubs work. Get over it. Private clubs have existed and will continue to exist (the Masons, the Elks Lodge, Moose Lodge and the Friars Club are all non-golf examples as is every college Fraternity and Sorority). I worked at a private country club as a caddie for two summers- at no point did they commit felonious acts on new members as some “initiation” process. Every year you read about some college frat that ends up killing one of their pledges, and Logan, Connor, Dylan and the like get mommy and daddy to buy their way out of jail when these criminals should be doing 10-20 years and have to deal with being a convicted felon. Do I like the fact that clubs like Bethesda’s Burning Tree (which is men-only and notoriously female-unfriendly) exist? No, but this is their problem and not mine (their membership is old and dying). Augusta National has welcomed women and minorities, and yes, it’s taken them far too long to do it. Progress, however, is being made. The club is seasonal (it’s closed from mid-May through early October) so it’s not the same as a club in the sun belt that is open year-round. They’re selective with their membership, but most private clubs operate similarly (they invite people that they’d like to join their ranks).
The writer also brought up Martha Burk. I live with She Who is Really In Charge, and we’ve been together for some time. If you ask 1000 women, I’ll bet cash that most of them would rather earn the same as their male counterparts than earn 77 cents and get to enjoy seeing a single digit of women enjoy membership at Augusta National (ask women if you don’t believe me). It’s not that golf memberships aren’t important, but let’s get that wage gap closed and then start worrying about a seasonal golf club membership. Augusta National is never going to have a giant membership; they’ve made improvements (and while you can argue it’s moved to slowly, at least they are making progress). As more and more women become successful at the highest levels of industry (a good thing) you’ll see them in private clubs (and not for anything but I’m glad to see more and more clubs taking a progressive approach to memberships) as they understand the value of meeting people on the golf course.
The author also glosses over the Drive, Chip and Putt contest (open to kids and broken into age groups) that’s held at Augusta National on the Sunday before the tournament starts. Open to all who qualify, it’s a fantastic event that has turned into a great opportunity to get kids interested in the game. They didn’t have to start this, but they did. If you’re going to point out all that is wrong, then let’s point out things that they get right. I don’t see the other majors having something similar.
The author does go to great lengths to point out that the founders of Augusta National were control freaks who weren’t on the right side of history. I don’t disagree, but last I checked, both are dead. I’ll point out that you could go through just about any group of men in that area with a business interest in sports and find some unsavory characters (Conn Smythe of my beloved Toronto Maple Leafs was horribly racist, and former owner Harold Ballard was a terrible human being on any level- both men are gone and I’m thrilled). George Steinbrenner had a horrible past. Donald Sterling was a laughable racist idiot and was so for decades but nobody seemed to care. Daniel Snyder is a horrible person and yet the local sportscasters here dare not speak ill of him. To act like Augusta National Golf Club had a monopoly on unsavory people is incredibly naive and grossly incompetent.
So enjoy the Masters. It may not be perfect, but then neither am I.