10 Apr Pine Straw, Pretension, & Pimento Cheese
I have a lot of thoughts on Augusta National – the good, the bad, and even the indifferent. I intend to lay them all out here for the casual golf fan, the closeted grass guys, and the weekend warriors to absorb.
First, how can I start off with the negative? I have to build Augusta National up, only so I can tear it down later. For those Augusta National stans, of which there are many, I urge you to keep reading. You’ll actually enjoy this (for now). I’ll tell you when it gets too scandalous for you purists. You can close your eyes, cover your ears and go on pretending that ANGC is Bobby Jones’ gift to golfdom. As a grass guy, there’s a lot about Augusta National I can get behind. Even as a golf fan, there are things I can appreciate. Let’s begin.
1. The grass at Augusta is that otherworldly green. How can I not touch on the fact that there is more green on this course than anywhere else imaginable? Picnic enthusiasts and lawn bowlers are practically throwing themselves at their TV screens. However, that shouldn’t really be a surprise. Augusta has more money and technology in their Agronomy department than you can shake a stick at. The second cut literally spans the entire course and they have a small standing army of agronomists each dedicated to one, and only one, hole. Good luck trying to get some variety in your day when you’re stuck looking at the same hole all day, everyday. My thoughts and prayers to the crew on hole 14. They must go to sleep and dream in only green. The use of bentgrass greens is another point in the cap for Augusta National. For those of you who read my other blogs, you know that bentgrass is the Jack Nicklaus of putting surfaces. It also happens to be my personal favorite to play and manage. Golf clap to you, Augusta.
2. Give me ALL of the azaleas. The horticulture and planting on the course is another thing I can get behind. I drool over manicured greens, especially when set against a backdrop of green grass and pruned shrubs. Augusta delivers that in spades, but I am more than happy not to be the one providing that for the members. There’s a reason Amen corner is the Mecca for many golf fans, and it does have that awe factor which reminds we why I not only love this crazy game, but willingly and enjoyably cut grass.
3. The tradition at Augusta is second to none. The only caveat here is that distinction is relatively easy to attain when you’re the only major to not have to hopscotch its way from course to course. The par 3 tournament, for an example, is a little morsel that I love. We need more par 3 competitions on Tour. I grew up playing this little goat track of a par 3 and it is what captivated my love of golf. Let’s all agree, no more giant holes on the green for kids. Let’s just give them fun, unique par 3 tracks to enjoy. I think it’s more beneficial to everyone. The champions’ dinner menu is another hot scoop I shamelessly love to see. I could’ve told anyone that Patrick Reed’s menu would have dairy in three out of the four mains. Patrick, I know you’re from Texas but let’s reign it in on the lactose and self-fulfilling prophecies there bud.
4. The epic battles and the memorable winners are what the people remember of the Masters, even when less than a quarter of it is actually shown on TV or their website. The epic moments of the Masters, whether from my era or times before mine, are what ultimately define and will continue to define this tournament’s legacy. Every generation and individual has their own distinct Masters memory that gives you that one second of connection to Augusta. I have Phil’s 2004 win tattooed on the back of my eyelids, just waiting to be replaced by this years US Open victory. Which is yours?
5. Augusta National is beginning to progress and finally shed that broom stick up the keister attitude of eras past. With a successful Women’s Amateur this past week, and the Drive, Chip, and Putt finals there this weekend, it’s definitely trending in the right direction. Golf needs to embrace inclusivity and when the last bastion of hoity-toity golf, Augusta National, is finally holding a women’s event, one can only hope Clifford Roberts is rolling around in his grave.
With all that being said, the Masters, is far from my favorite event, let-alone my favorite major. I always get that butterfly feeling in my stomach, like a little kid on Christmas who wants nothing more than his dad to finally come home from getting milk and cigarettes but doesn’t. That’s how much the Masters constantly lets me down!
1. The coverage of the Masters needs a shakeup. I need my golf running directly in to my veins, I need that early morning coverage with the John Deere line meticulously mowing the first fairway by their headlights. What I don’t need is Nick Faldo talking history to me for 6 hours while I wait for the one group and 5 holes that the Masters decides to televise and stream. I know the Masters’ field has a lot of has-beens and old greats all while being the smallest field of any Major, but that shouldn’t translate to the smallest amount of screen time. It’s THE MASTERS! I’d love to see Freddie Couples play more than the 11th green and 12th hole, and would thoroughly enjoy watching full rounds Thursday and Friday. I guess watching golf is a strange concept? In college, I would skip class, grab a box of Stella Artois and settle in for, what I naively thought, was about to be a day of golf. This typically turned into a day of Jim Nantz telling stories about how he and Freddie Couples hit the bars in Houston when they were college students. Shout out U of H, Go Cougs. But big let down Augusta.
2. The earth-shattering cost of going to Augusta coupled with cheap pimento cheese sandwiches is ridiculous and tacky. By now the Augusta purist’s argument is heading towards, “Well Eric, if coverage of the Masters is the problem, why don’t you just go to Georgia and watch the Masters in person?” Yea, ok Augusta guy, I would absolutely love that. Except, it’s legitimately easier to get a box suite at the World Series, Stanley Cup, and Super Bowl combined than it is to get a GA ticket to walk the “sacred ground” in Augusta. “But Eric, the ambiance is second to none and you can get a pimento cheese sandwich for $1.50. They make you leave your phone at home and you sit in armless lawn chairs pretending it’s 1950.” I’ll pass. Pimento cheese is for the birds, sorry. Even Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta has food under $5 dollars now. Next topic.
3. The Pretension. Unfortunately, this “fuck it/you” attitude is something I kind of secretly admire. Like, “nope you can’t sit with us, we are doing you a favor even having this tournament, you’re lucky we have it on TV.” It’s this pompous dangling of the unattainable fruit that is so “Augusta National” that it hurts. The fact that the club is closed from May to October is everything you need to know about who plays golf there. A picture of Augusta National in August looks worse than your local Muni after an outing. I get that it’s hot and humid and whom in their right mind wants to golf in the Georgian summer? This guy, that’s who! I’m wildly confident others would as well. This pretension, however, is slowly evaporating with a new crop of members and, finally, the addition of women. Cliff is probably cursing seven ways to Sunday at this point. It’s this flouting of the “look what we have and don’t even use” attitude that is so outlandish I can’t help but love it. Sure, Augusta National could go the secretive-prestigious way of Pine Valley, but what fun is it having all that money and not showing anyone?
4. Augusta’s pressure on the rest of the industry. This issue is likely the most understated. The green of Augusta National puts an exorbitant undo amount of pressure on much of the golf industry. After watching the Masters, a casual golfer is out there expecting every green to be greener than a shamrock in Ireland with not an ounce of brown in the rough or fairway. *News flash! This is not how this works, this is not how any of this works!* Brown grass is just as playable as green grass and is arguably closer to the origins of what golf is supposed to look like vs. the green monstrosity of Augusta National. As I said earlier, I appreciate the green but I have worked at some pretty prestigious courses and had members complain that the greens are not as “vibrant” as the Masters on TV, and some fairway has “a few browning spots.” Um, this is golf people. Just because you said that, I’m now placing this pin in a tricky location, only to inevitably be told to move it to an easier spot. God forbid a few members have to 2-putt. Augusta National not only puts unrealistic expectations onto the agronomy teams at other private courses, but now every hacker in the world expects greens like that. Stop trying to make it happen, it’s not going to happen and creates false expectations for golf.
Even after I accept my future membership to Augusta National (I retract everything I said when I am admitted, seriously committee please disregard), I’d probably not play there often. It’s not that inspiring of a course to me. It’s a course painted one shade of green, propped up by exclusivity and secrets, that some how hoodwinked the entire golf world because the great Bobby Jones built it. The US Open is hand downs a better test of golf, and the tradition and aesthetics of The Open Championship, far outshine anything Augusta will ever do. Somewhere along the way we all drank the Kool-Aid, and now the first Major, is somehow the most beloved. In this country we idolize things we can’t have and it’s no more on display than at the Masters. There’s a lot I enjoy about the Masters’ but the agronomic practices, course originality, and membership are things that I love to hate, and hate that I love.
Keep doing you ANGC. Rub it in my poor little face. I will undoubtedly keep ingesting it, enthusiastically, year in and year out.
Eric MacPherson knows a lot about golf, but even more about grass. Having worked in golf for what seems like forever, and going on to graduate school in turfgrass, he’s able to walk mow a green, and change the shaft in your favorite driver. He’s worked on some of the east coast’s primer golf clubs doing everything from washing carts to building brand new putting greens. He’s also volunteered at several high profile Tour events including a major and the President’s Cup. The only thing he likes more than pushing a walk mower on a beautiful crisp morning, would be teeing it off instead. Shoot Eric a message at firstname.lastname@example.org.