Golf is a funny sport to be a fan of. I’m a fanatical Michigan football and basketball fan and I love watching those sports because I love rooting for those teams, and I love rooting against their rivals. But in golf, who are we really rooting for and against? Technically, you’re supposed to root for good golf shots, not specific players. You applaud good shots and groan for bad shots. But obviously, there are going to be fan favorites. People will cheer a little bit more for Phil Mickelson than KJ Choi or Vijay Singh, but you’ll never hear boos. I don’t personally have a favorite golfer. But for some reason, the Masters is one of, if not my favorite, sporting event.
Augusta National is perhaps the most pretentious sporting landscape in the world. Tickets are not sold to the public.* In order to buy tickets you basically have to have season tickets. But the real problem is that the season ticket waiting list closed in 1978. So it’s pretty much impossible to get tickets unless you know someone with tickets, or you’re incredibly rich. And even if you’re incredibly rich it can still be tough since scalping tickets at the Masters is not allowed. If someone is caught selling their ticket, they lose their right to purchase one in the future.
Also, these tickets that I just referred to are not called tickets, they are known as badges at the Masters. When you walk around the grounds you keep the badge clasped to your shirt at all times. And God forbid anyone forgets to clasp the pin shut on their badge when handing the badge to an attendant upon entering the grounds. A stern talking to is definitely in order.
There are excessive rules at Augusta National. For example, there is no running on the grounds. It makes for a pretty funny sight when people are trying to follow the leaders on Sunday and everyone is speed walking their way from hole to hole. But by far the best rule is the seating honor system. When the grounds open at 6:00 in the morning all the patrons** speed walk their way to their favorite hole and set up folding chairs with their name on them behind the green. Then, for the rest of the day, no one else will sit in that seat.
The winner of the Masters wins a green jacket, and a permanent locker in the champions locker room. He also wins the right to pick the dinner menu for the following year’s Champions’ Dinner.***
Everything has a name at Augusta. Every hole is named after a flower or tree. For example, number five is named Magnolia and number thirteen is named Azalea. The bridge to the green on number twelve is named the Ben Hogan Bridge. The water that cuts in front of the twelfth green is known as Rae’s Creek. Holes 11, 12, and 13 are collectively known as Amen Corner because of the difficultly of the holes and the unpredictability of the winds around those holes. The main driveway to the clubhouse is called Magnolia Lane. The Crow’s Nest is the tiny living space where the amateurs that are invited to play in the tournament are housed. And Butler Cabin is where Jim Nantz gets all teary eyed every year.
Yet for all of the pretentiousness and the ridiculous rules and traditions, there’s just something inherently likable about it. The Masters reminds us that spring is here. It is the most scenic golf course your eyes have ever seen. The cheers are tough to put into words. There is a separate cheer for a birdie, an eagle, a hole in one. A Tiger cheer, a Phil cheer, a no one has ever heard of me cheer. But the amazing thing is that you can tell them all apart on the course from holes away. It’s a special tournament, and maybe it’s because of the rules and names and traditions, but there’s nothing else like it in sports today.
Oh, and since this is supposed to be a Michigan blog, watch for Lion Kim this year (yes, there are now golfers named both Lion and Tiger). Lion is one of the six amateurs invited to this year’s tournament, and is a current University of Michigan student. You won’t have trouble spotting him since he’ll be decked out from head to toe in maize and blue. At least I’ll have someone to root for this year. Go Blue!
*Next year there will be a few tickets sold to the public for the first time ever in a random lottery system.
**Fans at the Masters are known as patrons.
***The most famous Champions’ Dinner moment happened when a liquored up former champion Fuzzy Zoeller told reporters to tell Tiger Woods “not to serve fried chicken, or collard greens, or whatever the hell they serve” at next year’s dinner.