Coming to the Masters is an experience of culture, not commerce.
I had been told how beautiful it was. I had read it in a thousand articles about the Masters. Yet to be at Augusta National exceeds even high expectations. It constitutes a genuine blessing. I was excited enough to be on hand for perhaps the most dominant Masters' win ever, that of Jordan Speith, who not only tied the course record of Tiger Woods in 1997, but led from start to finish, something not even Tiger has done. I'll leave it to the sports pages to detail the magnificence of Speith. The greater magnificence of the Masters is as an expression of culture.
There is the astonishing beauty of the course, where one does not see — amid the immaculate fairways and greens, the dazzling white bunkers, the resplendent flowers and shrubs, even the wooded areas — any actual dirt or soil. Every such patch on the enormous estate is covered in pine straw so meticulously maintained it could have been laid down with tweezers. The view from the gallery at the 11th green and 12th tee — the famous Amen Corner, named not for sacred reasons, but oddly enough after a 1930s jazz song — might be just be the most beautiful cultivated landscape I have ever seen. If beauty is a manifestation of the divine, then it is not inappropriately named.
Excellence in the service of beauty is the hallmark of healthy culture, but the Masters at Augusta National is not only about beauty, even with the television towers painted green so as not to be eyesores. The culture expressed is one of gentility, of human values of hospitality and courtesy greater than mere efficiency or commercial savvy.
Don't misunderstand. Augusta National is the savviest manager of a brand in the sports business. If you want Masters-branded bow ties or boxer shorts, they are available. The sheer amount of money the Masters generates means that they are able, to accommodate the (free) parking, to spend tens of millions purchasing surrounding neighbourhoods, only to demolish them to create wooded parking lots. The houses went. The trees remained.
Coming to the Masters is an experience of culture, not commerce. It is the best value in sports, with Augusta National charging $325 for a weeklong ticket. They sell for vast multiples of that privately, but the face value remains cheaper than many football tickets for a single NFL game. The food is cheaper still, with the famous pimento cheese sandwiches at $1.50. I saw one fellow purchase two dozen bags of chips to take home which, at $1 a bag, are cheaper than at the grocery store. Contrary to the fundamental operating principle of almost all professional sports, the Masters does not gouge patrons just because they could.
The Masters is a totally sensory experience, as all good culture should be.
Augusta National has been called the cathedral of golf. Perhaps, but cathedrals permit smartphones and ban cigars. Here it is the reverse, which makes it rather more like what I would like heaven to be. I read that at Churchill Downs they have banned selfie sticks from the Kentucky Derby this year. Here they have banned both phones and cameras, so a day at the Masters is blessedly selfie-free. The lack of selfies — self-absorption as the end of culture — smartphones and giant video screens means that patrons have to ask each other what is happening in other parts of the course. Actual conversations with strangers in public places is rarer today than even the superlative golf being played.
The Masters is a totally sensory experience, as all good culture should be. The course is a delight to the eyes, and the combination of cut grass and fine cigars is still more delightful to the nose. The food is reasonable. The sound is memorable. Drives travelling so fast that you see the ball in flight before you hear the crack of it being the struck. The silence of an enormous crowd, which does rival the reverence of a cathedral. And the roar of the gallery. We were on the 16th when the gallery at the 15th green erupted. That sound, that intensity, could only mean one thing: fan favourite Phil Mickelson had an eagle. We knew instantly, even before discovering that he had holed out from the bunker.
Finally, touch. Augusta National is meant to be felt underfoot, gently strolling its rolling hills. There is even a rule that "running is considered inappropriate behaviour." As one who has honoured that principle in all circumstances for a lifetime, I was impressed to see it enforced. To which one can only say, Amen. Corner.
Father Raymond J. de Souza, "Golf's cathedral." National Post, (Canada) Aril 14, 2015.
Reprinted with permission of the National Post and Fr. de Souza.
Father Raymond J. de Souza is chaplain to Newman House, the Roman Catholic mission at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario. He is the Editor-in-Chief of Convivium and a Cardus senior fellow, in addition to writing for the National Post and The Catholic Register. Father de Souza is on the advisory board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.Copyright © 2015 National Post
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