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Crashing Augusta

I once shot 84 on a tough course, and like all duffers, dream that one day my wayward putts will fall effortlessly into one hole after another. Golf tempts us with the possible because perfection appears tantalizingly in reach, even for just a single hole, and that keeps us coming back after all the shanks and screams.  We’re fanatical by nature. Witness the hundreds of golf training gimmicks and videos and books we buy to improve our swings. But perhaps I’m more fanatical than some. I’ve gotten on an airplane and flown cross-country in the faint hope that I might see and smell and hear and feel perfection in the presence of golf’s masters in their house of worship.

I’m suffering from Masters madness. Against all advice and reason, I am standing outside the gates of the world’s most exclusive golf tournament. Every reasonable person I know has told me it’s absurd to attempt to attend this tournament if you’re not a corporation, guest of a corporation or happen to have several thousand extra dollars to blow. The fact I’ve gotten this far is itself a miracle. I’ve actually secured a crash pad – last night I slept like a baby on an air mattress on the screen porch of a little brick house I’m sharing with seven guys half a mile down Azalea. With the city snarled in traffic it’s ideally located and you can’t beat the price – my share of the week’s lodging, and golf cart, (rented on impulse from a local) comes to a bargain $425.

But here’s the rub. The badge, or tournament pass for the Masters, costs $3,500 to $5,000 or more, and is harder to come by than a Super Bowl ticket. Price alone does not convey the tournament’s exclusivity. This is the Deep South, where “Yes, Suh!” fills the air like the pervasive scent of Magnolia blossoms, Northern principles do not apply.

Headed by chairman Hootie Johnson, The National, as locals proudly call it, is defined by its own rules. When the thunderous drives of a certain gifted player began soaring over the sand trap on eighteen, The National backed up the trap and lengthened the hole.  As for Hootie’s headline grabbing preference for excluding the fairer sex. “Well, we’ve adopted a new policy,” Hootie proclaimed during his annual Masters news conference. “We don’t talk about club matters, period.” That means, “at the point of a bayonet,” he repeated, flanked by a bevy of green-jacketed members. “I said we have a new policy. We don’t talk about club matters, period.” Which is a pretty good idea when your organization excludes all women and counts just two blacks as members, while wholeheartedly embracing billionaires (six) and the nation’s richest, most powerful white men.

Snowball Narrative, 2010. Collected Playboy stories. Winner of the New York Press Club award for Best Sports Writing.

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