Albany Herald Guest Columnist Loran Smith
AUGUSTA — Having been on this scene for decades, I have witnessed a lot of changes — principally the golf course and the coming of new buildings and expanded parking grounds — but the core attraction remains the competition and the setting.
Taking a walk around the golf course in early morning before the crowds storm the premises brings about an unequaled uplifting of spirits and a renewal of inspiration at what has to be the classiest of sporting events.
There are so many sensational sporting championships in the world, and each has its own charm and allure, but there is nothing quite like the Masters. This is the toughest ticket in sports, but it is also the best bargain. Although I am sure you pay a premium for that iconic Masters logo in the pro shop, which is your choice, you are not gouged at the Masters.
Buy a sandwich and a Coke, and you won’t have to cringe when you get your change.
How much do you have to pay for parking at the Super Bowl? The World Series? The Kentucky Derby? At Augusta, they even have a family plan where you can bring a kid to the tournament without taking out a small loan. Most sports teams count on inflated ticket prices and entice you to succumb to overpriced goods and services. Unfortunately, we are now seeing that take place in college athletics. Although this event can’t guarantee you an exciting finish on Sunday, tradition says that will likely happen. The best bang for your buck can only be had at the Masters.
Masters fans love the setting as much as the purists do. Where else can you find a more refreshing environment, more scenic beauty, and more hospitality and welcomed decorum? Only the Kentucky Derby (and maybe Wimbledon, the Henley Regatta, and the Tour de France) can compete with the Masters when it comes to affiliating with the great outdoors.
The World Series attracts an element of rowdies, the Indy 500 is too loud, and everybody seems to get drunk at the Super Bowl. Fans give way to their neighbors at the Masters. At other events, you need a steel vest to rebuff the elbowing you incur. At the Masters, nobody boos the competitors. Nobody screams at the officials, and if you drop a sandwich wrapper, you pick it up. You go to the Masters, you have a sense of hospitality and courtesy. Your instincts make you mindful of good housekeeping.
Then there are those memories. Everybody has one to cling to. If you are an old timer, you may have seen Ben Hogan or Byron Nelson or Sam Snead win the Masters.
If your time was the ’60s, you may have been there when Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player were winning. Now you get chill bumps early on Thursday morning when you make an effort to see Arnold, Jack and Gary start the Masters. If you have been around, you can remember when those roles were reserved for Gene Sarazen, Sam Snead and Byron Nelson. When that last trio was starting the Masters, Nicklaus and Palmer were winning golf tournaments — a reminder that time waits on no man.
Geography has been an accomplice in my case, for which I am grateful. Think about it. If you had been born in the Bronx, you might have seen the great Yankees and Dodgers teams. You might have even gotten to see them play for a 50-cent bleacher ticket.
But you never would have smelled the fragrance of the azaleas or the dogwoods or heard the whisper of the loblolly pines. You would never have heard the flowing waters of Rae’s Creek while a player tried to make a 15-foot putt at No. 12. You would have missed something that Georgians, who love the Masters, never take for granted.