Hey, Augusta: These are all just suggestions.
The Masters golf tournament, which gets under way Thursday in Augusta, Ga., is perhaps the best-run and classiest sporting event in the world.It honors tradition. It oozes drama. It produces vivid memories and charismatic champions. It largely ignores the siren call of corporate America. And its arena, the Augusta National Golf Club, is the most beautiful sports venue on earth.
But the Masters isn't perfect. With apologies to co-founders Bobby Jones and Cliff Roberts, here are nine things that could be done to make the tournament even better:
- Show the front nine on TV.
Years ago, officials feared if every hole was televised, the gate would suffer. Uh, guys, Masters badges are going for $5,000 on the black market. You'll get a gallery. Meanwhile, the millions of golf fans who will never set foot on Augusta National would love to see the whole course.
- Strengthen the list of invitees.
Of the 98 players in the field this week, how many have a chance to win? At the most, 20 or 25. If the green jackets added one more qualifying standard - the top 100 on the world ranking - the field would be legitimate.
- Don't let former champions play if they aren't competitive.
Doug Ford and Gay Brewer Jr. were great golfers 30 years ago, but they can't play a lick anymore. Give their spots to guys who are capable of breaking 75.
- Grow some rough.
You want to protect the integrity of the course in this age of titanium clubs and balls that fly forever? Add 4 inches of gnarly bermuda rough. Tiger, Ernie and the boys would have to think twice about swinging from the heels on every par-5.
- Rotate 25% of the patron badges.
Tell your patrons that every fourth year, they must relinquish their badges for one tournament. Then conduct a lottery among applicants, as you do for practice round tickets. That would ensure that 10,000 new fans get to see the Masters every year.
- Lift the gag order on club members.
Roberts committed suicide in 1977, but he still wields power at the National. It was his idea to include a clause in the membership contract stating that members not be allowed to discuss Augusta National or the Masters with reporters. Thus, as he watched Tiger Woods win last year, Ron Townsend, the only African-American club member, couldn't talk about what he was feeling. Hey, green coats: lighten up. It's just golf.
- Bring back the club caddies.
The National rarely acquiesces to the players, but it did so in 1983, when it started letting Masters contestants bring their own caddies to the tournament. Thus, the club's caddies, all of them black, were forced into the background on their most important - and lucrative - week of the year. What a shame.
- Don't fret a brown spot or two.
It's one thing to put on a nice tournament; it's another to obsess about every blade of grass. Augusta National's expensive maintenance practices are partly responsible for the high cost of public golf, because every hacker wants his course to look as good. Remember, golf started in sheep pastures.
- Rebuild the 18th hole.
It's a bad finishing hole, with a semi-blind approach shot and little room for a gallery around the green. Why not carve an amphitheater into the hill and lower the green 20 feet? Imagine what it would have been like last year, had 20,000 people surrounded the green as Woods putted out. Talk about goose bumps.
Augusta National's expensive maintenance practices are partly responsible for the high cost of public golf, because every hacker wants his course to look as good.