The Masters succeeds because it satiates every kind of fan. The dilettante considers Augusta National a golf mecca, swayed by the course’s conditioning and the tournament’s distinct branding touch that is “unlike any other.” The PhD golf fan loves to dive into every subtle architectural detail or annual tweak to the course. That kind of golf fan anticipates how the course will promote the kind of strategy and shotmaking that makes golf diehards salivate. All fans can enjoy the tournament’s historical documents and memorable moments to different levels of niche detail to increase appreciation. It’s rare to see a sporting event, and certainly a golf tournament, capture the enthusiasm of such a wide range of fans. You’d expect either a menu that’s trying to do way too much and does nothing well, or a limited offering that makes some people happy but leaves most wanting.
This struck me again this week walking around as I heard first-time visitors (they are everywhere during the practice rounds) squeal with happiness as they discovered a new corner of the course. One told a friend he barely knew anything about the sport. He understood it on a basic “Netflix” level (he’d watched the show this spring), which may be the new term we use for the novice or newcomer who needs a refresher on the definition of par. But even with that limited understanding, the fan (or patron if you prefer), told a fellow fan with whom he’d just struck up a conversation, “I don’t know what heaven will look like, but this has to be something like it.” It’s a cliche that usually makes my eyes roll. And I did roll my eyes. But it also made me think about the comments earlier in the week from Tiger Woods about why he loved this tournament. I’ve been struck again by the variety, and magnitude, of people who can’t get enough of this tournament.
Woods, who could speak for days on the different reasons this tournament fills up his tank, got into some of the golf geekery on Tuesday. That’s the same golf geekery that has had so many in the media center examining every little detail and hypothetical around a new tee box at the most famous par-5 in the world, or some subtle green softening at the 7th hole that the novice could not care less about. Woods is the biggest golf geek walking the planet and he got deep into it Tuesday reminiscing about his decades of learning at the Masters. I’ll give you the Tiger storytime in full, one that had him “getting chills” by the end of the monologue.
“Let’s go back to playing with Fred and Raymond. So playing No. 2 right, the back left pin,” Woods began. “There has been—there was a moment in time when the gallery was not there on the second shot in the landing area next to the green, and there was a time, as of right now, there’s the gallery there. And Raymond says—I said, ‘Raymond, what do you hit to this back left pin?’ ‘Well, you hit it right over at them, and then right before it lands, you yell ‘fore.'”
“Things like that are kind of cool. And to have Raymond go around this golf course—that’s one of the reasons I learned how to chip with a 4-iron. The grain is different now than it was then. It’s a lot thicker now and a lot more sticky than it used to be. But Raymond showed me how to use a 4-iron around this golf course. And to listen to him describe how to use that club and the shots, the 8-iron, how he hits that shot and chips it from right here and he’ll put a cut spin on this one and he’ll put a draw spin on this one, he’ll make this one hold against the hill.
And then playing with Seve and Ollie and describing the same thing. I mean, it gives me chills just thinking about that, because that is invaluable knowledge and is one of the reasons why I was able to win here early, but also, then again, was why I’ve had short-game success over my career because I was able to pick those guys’s brains early in my career and then apply.”
Maybe we’ve all been tricked or played, but the variety of people this tournament attracts for different reasons makes it hard to dismiss. The Masters has at least some authentic appeal. There is a value in the tournament that goes beyond all the people telling you it’s important or that you should care about every detail. There’s plenty of treacle and overhype and odd devotions to merchandise and other aspects peripheral to the golf. But it’s amusing that maybe the most exclusive course in the world that almost no one will ever play appeals to the widest cross-section of people. This has been built over decades with meticulous care and promotion both subtle and…not subtle. At the core, however, is the golf tournament—the actual golf—which has always seemed to be the top priority. Everything else has been built up around it.