AUGUSTA — The eye-popping accommodations of the media center at the Augusta National Golf Club, which has no equal, is a reminder that members of the Fourth Estate never had it so good.
As I began the week with an iconic pimento cheese sandwich, I looked across the room where writers and broadcasters are patiently engaged — connected with millions of iPhones and computers across the world.
The Masters media center is more becoming than most corporate board rooms. Everybody has plenty of space. Journalists sit in well appointed chairs at desks fit for a suite at the Ritz.
Today’s technology allows instant connection. News of a consequential birdie putt is flashed across the world before it settles in the bottom of the cup. When the leader in the forthcoming rounds of play coughs, before he clears his throat, it’s on the Internet.
Mealtime is a happy time at Augusta. There are snacks to accommodate all urges any time of the day. You want a full breakfast? It is available as soon as you show up at the golf course. Menu choices, while not unlimited, are more than ample — everything from barbecue to health food to red meat and fish options.
Need to check out the golf course or meet someone at the clubhouse, you are dispatched promptly by golf cart. It is difficult to imagine any media center in sports that surpasses Augusta’s.
I began covering the Masters, while at Georgia in the early sixties. In those days, when golf on television was in its infancy, the term media had not become entrenched. The press worked from an aging Quonset hut on the northside of the first fairway. Radio reporters had to phone in reports from a bank of pay phones nearby.
Even so, it was not anything anybody complained about. It was standard for the times. The folding chairs were hard, but not uncomfortable.
You could eat your fill of Krispy Kreme doughnuts for breakfast and those pimento cheese sandwiches at lunch; throughout the day. If you tire of that fare, you can switch to good old-fashioned barbecue.
At the end of the day, on the weekend, there was an open bar for the hard-working journalists who appreciated an encouraging libation to top off their week of hard work.
Having grown up on a farm less than two hours away, I was intrigued when anyone suggested that sportswriters worked hard. I was imbued with the notion that I worked hard at my job, but it could never be considered hard work. Challenging, perhaps, but not hard work whether you were gifted at it or not.
As a representative of the Athens Banner-Herald, I was entitled to a working press badge, parking and two series badges for the week. Those badges went to my old high school coach who had taken a job in nearby Evans. He provided a bed for the week, and his wife cooked supper if I were not too stuffed from pimento cheese sandwiches and/or local barbecue at the golf course.
Then there was that column deadline which brought about an interesting routine. I had to have my story, even if the leaders were late coming off the golf course, finished by 8 o’clock to make sure I delivered it to the downtown Augusta post office by 9 p.m.
To get it to Athens by early morning, I had to buy a 30 cents special delivery stamp. The next day, I had to call a courier around 8 a.m. to see if my story had made it to the Athens post office. I am happy to confirm that the post office never let me down.
This was the era of Arnold Palmer. I saw him win his second Green Jacket by birding the 17th and 18th hole in 1960 to defeat Ken Venturi by a stroke. I was hooked and am happy to report that I have not missed a Masters since.
Today I don’t have to depend on special delivery stamps to deliver my column. I still can count on media parking and have not lost my taste for pimento cheese sandwiches.
The Masters, like the world, has changed, but this event remains the classiest of all. Nobody gets the back of the hand treatment at the Masters, not even lowly sports journalists.