The Masters: Purity Through Exclusion

Augusta NationalThe Masters, the first major golf championship of the year, is unique in its place and pedigree among the other major championships.  It is the youngest championship by almost two decades, has the smallest field by a large margin, and is the only Major Championship that is held at the same place every year.  In fact, there is no real reason that the Masters should be considered a major championship at all.[1]  It is, quite honestly, not the championship of anything.  The US Open decides the champion of the United States Golf Association.  The PGA Championship decides the champion of the Professional Golf Association.  The British Open decides the champion of the Royal and Ancient Golf Association.  The Masters decides the Champion of, well, a small, exclusive, immensely private golf club called Augusta National.

But make no mistake, this tournament is major, even among the majors.  There is a feel, an exclusivity, an air about The Masters that sets it apart.  The other major championships give trophies to their winners, The Masters gives its winner a jacket.[2]  If you win the other major championships you are given money and fame and respect.  If you win The Masters you belong. You get custom fitted with a green jacket that only the members and winners of the tournament get to wear.  You are always welcomed back.  Even after your golf skills erode, your jacket hangs in the clubhouse and is ready for you whenever you want to visit.  You belong.  More than any other sporting event, The Masters leaves me conflicted.   The First week of April every year I am filled with excitement and, also, filled with an uneasiness that I cannot shake.  The Masters gets the beauty and purity of sport in ways that most other sporting events have long since stopped trying to capture.  Yet, simultaneously, it misses a key element that makes sport so interesting and beautiful and pure.  It is Jeckyll and Hyde.

Augusta National has, throughout the years, left hundreds of millions of dollars on the table because of its desire to keep The Masters pure.  Parking and concessions cost its patrons a fraction of what they cost at other events.  For the viewing public, commercials are limited to four minutes per hour – an unheard of number on any programming not emanating from someone’s basement.  It is the least commercial sporting event that I watch each year.  Even the Little League World Series is a corporate harlot by comparison.  The Players, media, patrons, and fans at home are all treated with great hospitality and care.  The game, the players, and the course are the stars of the event.  Tradition is honored and cherished at every turn.  Even the broadcasts themselves are policed to make sure that respect is shown at all times.[3]   In short, The Masters does the unthinkable in this day and time – it places sport above revenue in its decision making.  A refreshing display, to say the least.

And, yet, despite this admirable goal of protecting their tournament from the ravages of commercialism, The Masters has missed a key ingredient that makes sport pure – accessibility.  The Masters is the least accessible sporting event that I watch each year.  Every part of it is micro-managed and restricted.  The amount of time that a network can air live coverage is controlled, the list of people who can get tickets is carefully managed, the camera angles and types of cameras are strictly limited – no blimps allowed at the Masters.  The dress of the caddies is mandated.[4] The number of golfers invited to play is small and strictly enforced.  And all information is carefully guarded and disseminated by the Board of Augusta National.  No exceptions allowed.

The Masters is, at its heart, a private affair.  Held by a private club who still to this day, has no female members, and until 1990, had no African-American members.  Its membership is by invitation only – there is no application process at all.  It is a secretive club of millionaires and billionaires and makes no apologies for this exclusivity.  Even the members list is closely guarded – so guarded that it has only been leaked once to the public.  We do know that no other organization boasts a collection of power that equals the membership list of Augusta National – Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, T. Boone Pickens, Jack Stephens, and the CEOs of most of the major corporations in America, have their own green jackets. [5] And while I believe that a private club has the right to be exclusive in its membership, it is evident that The Masters defining principle is exclusion.  It seems that its love of purity is fed by its need for control.

The other three major championships derive their magic from their openness.  They are egalitarian affairs.  It is conceivable that any golfer with a good enough game could qualify and win the US Open or British Open and any lowly club pro could qualify and win the PGA.  This accessibility based on merit alone is their beauty. The Masters derives its magic from its exclusivity.  The only person that will ever win a green jacket is someone who the members of Augusta National invite to play in their tournament.  They choose.  The chairman of Augusta National, Billy Payne, was asked 11 questions at the Wednesday Press Conference about whether the club will admit a female member – he declined to answer them all.  They discuss only what they want to discuss.  They are in control.

So I will wait until 2:00 pm today to watch half of the first round because the Board of Augusta National doesn’t want the morning rounds televised.  And I will watch in awe at the beauty of the azaleas and the perfectly manicured conditions that test the mettle of the game’s best.  But as I watch, I know that I will once again be like a kid trying to stand on my tip-toes to catch a glimpse of the party going on in my neighbor’s backyard.  I can see that it is fun but I can’t quite make out what they are doing.  The only thing I am sure of is:  I know that the party is not for me.



[2] The winner also gets a pretty awesome trophy.

[3] Famously, two announcers have been banished from calling any future Masters for remarks made on air.  One for referring to the gallery of patrons — The Masters insists that the crowd be called patrons – as “a mob.”  The other for saying that the greens appeared to be “bikini waxed” they were rolling so fast.

[4] For many years, the players were not allowed to bring their own caddies to the tournament but, instead, had to use Augusta National’s Caddies.

About David Davies, Editor-in-Chief

David Davies is the Editor-in-Chief of Media Rostra. He is also a lawyer and a licensed minister, so he is basically distrusted by everyone on some level. He received his Political Science degree from the University of Tulsa and his Juris Doctor from the University of Arkansas. He is a former Assistant Attorney General for the State of Arkansas, a former "good athlete for his size," and current owner of The Law Offices of David Davies, PLLC -- an Estate Planning and Elder Law firm that has offices in Arkansas and Tennessee. He co-authored, with fellow editor, Aaron Brooks, the article entitled: “Exploring Student-Athlete Compensation: Why the NCAA Cannot Afford to Leave Athletes Uncompensated," in the University of Notre Dame’s Journal of College and University Law.

Comments

  1. Great article Dave. Really enjoyed it. If I am not mistaken, there was actually a Masters tournament a few years back (when Jack Stevens was the chairman of the board) when this female membership business came up. Sponsors threatened to pull out if the issue wasn’t addressed. Stevens responded by personally financing the entire tournament himself. There were zero commercials that year. That reminds me- I would love to see a hard-hitting article on the Stevens family and how they have influenced Arkansas politics and business.
    Keep up the good work! 

  2.  BTW- check out the results to the yahoo poll that asks the question “Should the all-male Augusta National Golf Club allow women?”
    58% of the people said no! (me doing the Christian Slater move where he turns to the camera and shrugs his shoulders).

  3. david daviesNo Gravatar says:

    That is a fascinating poll, Michael.   That definitely surprises me, though as I said in the article, I think that all-men and all-women private clubs should be able to exist.  So, I support their right to be an all-male club even though, personally, I would prefer that they admit women for a myriad of reasons.  Not the least of which is that the young women should not feel like any repository of power is out of their reach because of their gender.  On, an unrelated note, the final round is setting up to be some great theater.