Ordinarily there would be a few reasons for me to have less than positive reflections about Augusta National Country Club and the Masters. The very exclusive nature of the membership, the exclusion of women from membership, the exclusion of blacks from membership until the early 1990s, for example. But in spite of these concerns, there is something very special about the place. Its beauty, its elegance, its tradition, it's proper decorum, the place it holds in the tradition of American sports, all combine to cause Augusta to hold a special place with me, despite it's few drawbacks.
I recall a wonderful story I heard Irwin Smallwood relate about his first assignment to the Masters. It was 1948. A 21-year old sports writer with the Greensboro News and Record, Irwin was, as I was, taken aback by his first glance at Magnolia Lane. He nervously made his way to the press tent where he was surprisingly greeted by Augusta National Charter Member Joseph Bryan, philanthropist from Greensboro. Joe tried to make the nervous kid feel at home. Toward the end of their conversation, Joe told Irwin that he had arranged an interview for him with the legendary club founder Bobby Jones. Irwin was stunned and shaken but, of course, happily conducted what was an early most memorable interview for the young sports writer.
I'll never forget being there in 1994 for all four rounds, with limo service back and forth from the Riverfront Radisson, entertaining customers for a national company for whom I worked at the time. My buddy Mark and I were there in 2006, just 20 feet from the remarkable 180 degree putt Tiger made at number 16. I fondly recall a most humorous story my older brother tells about Greensboro's Bill Black, Jr., who was Bobby Jones' son-in-law, regarding an encounter Black had with Mr. Jones at the club on a particular evening. I recall getting to the first tee early on a Thursday opening round day and watching honorary starters Sam Snead, Ben Hogan, and Gene Sarazen tee off to start the tournament. I recall that one of the first people I saw at the course the first time I went was my Uncle Warren Bass from Greensboro. Just after that, I was in the concession line with Carter Administration Attorney General Griffin Bell. Oh, those Augusta memories.
Whether it is Amen Corner, Eisenhower Cabin, the Eisenhower Tree, Magnolia Lane, the excitment and anticipation of the drive to Augusta, or just watching the tournament from the couch in the den on a Sunday afternoon in April, the place and the event are special. Yes, I certainly overlook the few characteristics which are generally contrary to my values, remembering, as a good friend wisely said recently, there are less favorable and more favorable attributes in about all people and all institutions. Let's celebrate that which is worth celebrating, that which adds flavor, elegance, and tradition to our culture and our lives.