“Golf is a good walk spoiled.” – Mark Twain
They’re going to start arriving this Sunday afternoon. Like clockwork, at the same time as the pollen from the Southern pines settles on every surface in the Savannah River area, golf fans will pour in from all over the world to watch The Masters’ Tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club. For one week, our normally sleepy community will be turned over to the throngs who follow the game of golf with almost religious-like fervor. From Aiken it’s an easy 25 minute drive, on a good day, to Augusta, and it makes a perfect place for golf fans to settle in for the tournament. Aikenites, however, have just a couple of options during the week. Some residents rent out their homes for obscene amounts of money, and get out of town, while local inns and hotels offer catering and cleaning services to the renters. Golf aficionados who choose to stay at the hotels will pay double the normal rates for their rooms and will dine at restaurants which have also increased their menu prices for the next eight days.
Those of us who decide to stay home do just that – we stay home. Our preparations are made in advance, with errands being run and groceries being purchased days before the crowds arrive. We’ve learned that it’s best not to venture out during this busy Spring week. Everything we would normally do takes twice as long because of the traffic and everything we would normally buy becomes too expensive for our budgets, so we let these good men and women have their way with our town, knowing that we’ll get it back soon enough.
I’m happy to see them come in and have a good time, but I can’t quite understand the excitement over golf. I’ve tried to play on a few occasions and I just don’t get it. The times I did play, I was warned by more than one club employee about what they considered were my bad manners. It’s as if they don’t see the fun in racing golf carts across the greens like you’re on a NASCAR track or they can’t appreciate the humor in yelling “Fore” just for the heck of it when another group – oops, sorry, it’s not a group, it’s a foursome – is teeing off. This is golf, for heavens sake, and, apparently, it’s very, very serious stuff. Why they even call it a game is beyond me.
One example of just how seriously golf is taken is the way you have to speak. Everybody has to whisper during tournaments – the gallery and the sports announcers all talk in hushed tones as if they were in church. To keep things quiet, certain items are banned from the grounds. Augusta National has a laundry list of things you can’t bring with you. Cameras, drinks, coolers, chairs, cell phones, handbags, backpacks, and so on – all off-limits. Oh, and no weapons of any kind, even with a permit. They prohibit almost as many items as TSA and the club’s security does a better job than the Secret Service when it comes to seeing that you comply. There are other rules that, if you violate them, can get you thrown off the course. Fans can’t run or take off their shoes or wear their hats backwards or ask to become members. I’m not even supposed to call them fans. They’re patrons, just so we’re clear.
The players, on the other hand, can do pretty much what they want with little concern for ramifications – maybe a fine here or there, but nothing too serious. They’ve been known to utter more than a few four-letter words when things don’t go their way. Some players have thrown their clubs at the ground or at a caddy or at the crowd in a very unprofessional display of golfers’ tantrums. It’s sort of funny, when you think about it, because it doesn’t take much to set these guys off. It doesn’t even have to be a bad swing or a ball that gets lost in the trees. Nope, something as simple as a squirrel running across a green and one of these pros is having a meltdown. They’re a delicate bunch, those golfers.
One particularly special flower among them all is the number one player in the world – Lord Tiger Woods, Earl of the International House of Pancakes. He’s not known for being the friendliest guy on the tour, unless you’re a waitress at a Denny’s or Perkins’. He is, however, without a doubt, a great golfer and his participation in any tournament always raises the ante and adds to the excitement. Since his marital and uh, “sexual addiction” problems in 2009, Woods has made his way back to the top, and fans seem to be happy about that. Nike seems very happy and they came up with a new ad campaign the day after he regained his status as number one. “Winning Takes Care of Everything”? Really? Does it? I don’t know. Let me think about it… Maybe I should ask Charlie Sheen. Nope, it doesn’t, but I’m not Nike or a golf fan, so what do I know. I decided to stop looking at sports figures as role models and heroes right after Oscar Pistorius killed his girlfriend. Public images and private lives are two very different animals. I know, it took me a while to figure it out, but I finally got there.
Now, getting back to Augusta and their esteemed golf club. I’ve talked about the men who are playing there because, up until last year, Augusta didn’t allow women to be members of the club. I was kind of surprised about the exclusion of women, considering some of the men who are members, men who I thought were more enlightened and evolved. People like Bill Gates, T. Boone Pickens, Warren Buffett and Jack Welch, all smart and successful businessmen, pay dues there. But it is a private club, after all, so I guess they can do what they want so long as they don’t trample on too many laws. Somehow, though, this good old boys’ club realized that this was the 21st Century and even Southern belles now have the same rights and privileges as men. So, despite the protestations of the former club chairman, Hootie Johnson (no, I didn’t make that up – his nickname is Hootie) two women were made members of the Augusta National Golf Club. These lucky ladies are former Secretary of State Condeleezza Rice and South Carolina businesswoman and gazillionaire Darla Moore. So, there you go. Everything’s cool and now these two women can play golf amongst the famous azaleas, just like the guys. For what it’s worth, don’t expect any comments or interviews from either of them about the club or the honor bestowed upon them by being allowed membership, at least not without getting permission first. The only one who can speak freely about Augusta National is the chairman – Billy Payne. It’s all very hush-hush – like Skull and Bones, only with lots of very well manicured Bermuda grass.
I won’t bore you with any more details of the game or the tournament because I really can’t. I’ve told you just about everything I know regarding golf, and, as you can probably tell, I’m woefully uninformed. Just for the fun of it, I’ll stick my neck out and predict that someone will end the week wearing the coveted green jacket. I will tell you that, as the Leer jets and Beechcrafts, carrying corporate sponsors and players, make their way over The Farm towards the Aiken airport, I’ll be watching women’s college basketball and rooting for my Lady Huskies, again. I’m not just a basketball fan, I’m a patron and we’re allowed to be very noisy. Fore!