Symbol of legend

March 20, 2018

For me, it’s not a question of “what’s so special about Augusta National”, but rather “what’s not special about Augusta National?”

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Augusta National Golf Course (Image: Internet)

Everyone asks me what is so special about Augusta National and the Masters tournament. Many people simply don’t “get it” and talk about the history of the Open Championship, or the US Open Championship or even the PGA Championship.

For me, it’s not a question of “what’s so special about Augusta National”, but rather “what’s not special about Augusta National?” Heck, in that place EVERYTHING is “special.”

Consider this, when you ask a golfer what is the most famous golf course in the world, most will answer “St Andrews” and/or “Augusta National.”

Yes, I know there are many Europeans (read: Englishmen harrumphing) at the thought of any course being considered the equal of St Andrews, Carnoustie, Royal Birkdale, Royal Lytham & St Annes, Royal St Georges and the like. And by “like”, I mean ALL of the old courses scattered throughout Great Britain.

Still, Augusta National is a nation unto itself. If you don’t believe me, try getting through the gates sometime. You’d have an easier time sneaking across the US-Mexico border and forget even thinking about becoming a member. This isn’t Vietnam where clubs are begging for members.

At Augusta National, if you ask to become a member, you’re already disqualified.

In fact, members are prohibited from even talking about club business to outsiders. There are many strict rules at the club and violation of any of these rules could earn you a quick letter from the chairman stating very simply: “Dear so and so, you are no longer a member of Augusta National GC.”

They don’t screw around, so members are always on their best behavior. What a concept. Pity clubs in Vietnam can’t emulate it.

Augusta National Golf Club only has about 300 members at any given time. Membership is strictly by invitation: there is no application process. Membership is believed to cost between $10,000 and $30,000 and annual dues were estimated in 2009 to be less than $10,000 per year.

Yup, you read that right.

So, perhaps you’re wondering how they can have such low fees and remain open. The answer is “The Masters” where they rake in around $115 million in revenue and turn a profit of $29 million.

I’ll bet many club owners here in Vietnam just lost their minds.

That number is much less than what they could earn if they wanted to, but Augusta National has never been about money. It is a club that believes in upholding the history, traditions and integrity of the game. You won’t find swimming pools and tennis courts at Augusta National. It’s strictly golf on, perhaps, the most well maintained golf course on the planet.

If you dig below the surface of the grass, you would discover one of the most technically advanced operations in sport, let alone golf, and with it the reason for those impossibly vivid colours that are the envy of every green keeper.

Each of the greens benefit from the use of SubAir equipment, which is a pumping system that can either blow air into the roots of the greens, which helps cool the grass during very hot weather or suck excess water out of the greens, depending on what the superintendent needs it to do.

The course is shut during the hot summer months and doesn’t really get rolling again until October. To be perfectly honest, if you saw the course during the summer, you wouldn’t recognize it.

The Masters Tournament is an “invitational”, meaning that the club decides who can play and who cannot. They set guidelines to make things easier, but the bottom line is they don’t care who you are. If they don’t like you, you’re not going to be invited. Yes, they could even un-invite Tiger Woods or Jack Nicklaus if they decided to.

The idea of the green jacket originated with club co-founder Clifford Roberts who supposedly wanted patrons visiting during the tournament to be able to readily identify members if they needed help during the event. Every Master’s winner since 1949 has received a green jacket, although he does not receive membership.

The winner of the Masters is allowed to take the green jacket home for the first year, but after that it must remain at the club. I suspect that the powers-that-be might have reconsidered letting the jacket off property at all after seeing Phil Mickelson pull into a Krispy Kreme drive-through while wearing it.

Bottom line: Augusta National and the Masters remain one of a kind.

    Anirban Lahiri

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