You may be familiar with the colour green, but you haven’t really seen it until you’ve been to the Masters.
A few years back, I walked onto the course with another journo who was working the golf tournament for the first time. He stopped on the grass that girds the first and 18th holes – acres of it, fungally thick, absolutely uniform, shaved down to a few millimetres in height. He began working it with the soles of his feet: “This isn’t real, is it?”
It’s real. It’s so real it appears fake.
Everything at Augusta National is like that – a heightened sensory experience achieved through the expenditure of obscene amounts of money. You may think it looks beautiful on television (and it does), but the camera cannot begin to capture the actual experience.
In the normal course of things, we’d be halfway through the 2020 Masters at this point. For a lot of us, a few annual sports events frame the year. Wimbledon begins the summer holidays, the U.S. Open ends them and Masters is the start of spring.
Saturday storylines at Augusta are predictable – the top guy who’s never won it and is in the pack; the nobody who’s leading after 36 holes; Tiger Woods.
(Tiger Woods doesn’t have to do anything to be a storyline in golf. All he need do is continue to be Tiger Woods.)
I can live without the theatre of golf, such as it is. What I’m missing right now is green.
The weather in Georgia is a few weeks ahead of us up here. As a kid, my clearest memories of the Masters are those pan shots across the course that lead you into and out of ad breaks. Often, they’d focus on a dewy bush or give you close-ups of hundreds of feet in motion across the walking paths. It’s not exactly Kubrick-level camera work.
Until you consider that for many North American viewers, this was their annual reminder of what the world looks like after four or five months of winter. You’d forgotten how beautiful flowers are when in bloom.
Some visual genius at CBS Sports had figured that out back in the 1950s and his or her heirs continue the tradition. They may not even know why they do it. But those shots are part of what makes the Masters special.
I’m missing green because most of what I see now is white – the colour of the walls in my living room. And the kitchen. And the bathroom. And the bedroom.
(If I’d known what was coming, one of the things I’d have rethought is my ‘up-market asylum for the criminally insane’ design aesthetic.)
Temperamentally, I have strong mole-like tendencies. I like being indoors, wedged into small spaces with my back against a wall (the Malcolm X Rule).
Two things fill me dread – large, open spaces and camping. Our ancestors got out of the woods because there are things in there that want to kill you. Now some humans are trying to get back in. I never got that.
But the pandemic is fiddling with that internal wiring. Now that we are compelled to be inside, I want very badly to be outside.
And when I think of my perfectly realized idea of ‘outside’, it is Augusta National and the Masters.
This is I assume why people go there. It can’t be to watch golf. Most sports are better on television than they are live, but golf is functionally impossible to watch in person. The golfer takes a shot, which lands out of your range of sight. Would you pay to watch hockey if you never got to see if the shot hit the net?
You can plant yourself on a green, but then you are seeing dozens of people make the same putt over and over again. Hours of it. What’s the point?
Journalists who cover the Masters watch it on small, desk-mounted TVs because, unlike the spectators, they need to understand what’s happening.
The viewing auditorium looks like a NASA control centre, but with nicer wood finishings. There are massive windows fronting it, which look out onto the driving range. Someone is cleaning those windows every minute of the day.
Everything in the media centre – a building that makes the White House look tatty – is free. That includes a white-linen tablecloth restaurant. The players are brought in after their rounds to talk. You can go to the Masters and cover the Masters without ever having seen the Masters.
So aside from being able to say you’ve done it, it was a wonder to me that so many people paid so much money to attend the tournament. Purely in terms of sports spectating, you’re getting only a fraction of the experience.
But now I get it. They go to the Masters to be outside. To be outside in what is surely the most splendidly realized environment on the continent, short of the Grand Canyon. Augusta National is nature, but curated. It’s occurred to me that this is what I miss most about sports. It’s not the games themselves. They had got a bit omnipresent. There should be a few weeks in every year when there are no sports at all, in order that we might learn to miss them.
It was the feeling of being at sports. That moment when you come out of the darkness of a concourse, the aperture of your internal lens widens abruptly and the full glory of a playing field hits you. For urbanites, it is the ultimate experience of being outside.
Short of hustling through the park lest a stranger point you out as the worst sort of person in the world right now – a lingerer – I’m starting to wonder when we can properly be outside again. Months? Years? Will we all have become squinty little mole people by then? Will the raccoons be in charge?
Each of us has our own Augusta National. A place that seems just a little more perfect than any other.
That’s one of the finish lines of this thing – the moment we get to go back there and paw the grass for as long as we’d like.