The Masters: Where old meets new

Here’s what I love best about the Masters in Augusta, Georgia, where I’m situated right now. The first major tournament of the year is on this week, and it’s as much about tradition as it is about the modern, fast-paced world. Here are some reasons why I see the tournament this way.

Exhibit number one can be found on a long desk area in the eating area at the back of the fancy pressroom with its up to date electronic communications. I’m speaking of the two manual Royal typewriters there. I don’t believe that anybody still uses them, but there they sit. Amazing.

Now, if any writer feels inclined to tap out a few sentences there, more power to him or her. I’d love to see it, and to hear the clickety-clack of the keys as they strike the paper. But I’m attached to the electronic, connected world.

And so is the Masters, in part. For the first time ever the opening shots are being carried live on the Masters website. That happens Thursday morning at 8:00 AM, when the Honorary Starters Byron Nelson and Sam Snead swing away. As always, a large and respectful crowd-called “patrons” at the Masters will see these classic figures drive off.

See what I mean? At the Masts the old and the new commingle in ways we don’t see at other tournaments. This is part of what makes the Masters unique — a truly special place in the world of golf. Nelson and Snead are former Masters winners. Masters winners are honoured here, and the honorary starters are a significant part of the tradition at the tournament.

How can one not find the Masters fascinating? You drive along Washington Road, the main thoroughfare that goes past the gates to the club, and you hardly realize one of golf’s biggest shows is going on. But suddenly the traffic thickens around the course, which is hidden behind high hedges and fences, and there you are-at the Augusta National Golf Club.

Now I’ve been coming here for some 20 years, and never tire of the Masters. This year there’s added excitement for the Canadian contingent because Mike Weir is playing. The Bright’s Grove, Ontario native of whom I wrote here a couple of weeks ago played his first practice round of the week on Tuesday, alone by choice. His wife Bricia had given birth to their second daughter Monday morning, and following that happy occasion Weir flew east to play in his first Masters.

He chose to play alone in his practice round, which isn’t unusual. Three-time Masters winner Nick Faldo chose the same route, preferring his own thoughts and immersion into his favourite course rather than the company of other golfers. Meanwhile, Arnold Palmer, who won the 1958,
1960, 1962 and 1964 Masters, teed it up with amateurs Hunter Haas and David Gossett, along with his fellow professional Rocco Mediate. At the Masters, the old — Palmer, at 70 — mixes well with the young Gossett and Haas, in their early 20s and in awe of Palmer, so appreciative of
playing with him.

There’s so much that’s intriguing about the Masters. Early in the morning the golf-watchers wait in long lines to get into the main pavilion where they can make their purchases — caps, shirts, coffee cups, umbrellas, item after item with a Masters logo. The main scoreboard just right of the first fairway is full of people having their pictures taken.

Walking around, I pick up snatches of conversation. One fellow mentions he’s paying $180 (U.S.) for staying at a local and very basic motel. Another says he and a friend stayed two-and-a- half hours away near Atlanta, where they paid $59 a night for the room. Fair enough, if you don’t mind the long drive.

I walk the course, and watch as golfers chip and putt to the swirling, fast greens. They’re not as fast as when the tournament begins, but the golfers get some idea of what awaits them. There’s also some new rough on the course, something that was started last year as the tournament officials tried to toughen the course; some people call it “Tiger-proofing,” after Tiger Woods won the 1997 Masters by a record 12 shots.

Later Woods comes into the press centre, and I scramble to make it back to hear what he has to say. Woods says he’s been improving week after week, and that he points to the majors. His goal is to be the best player in the world, and that means winning more professional major championships than Jack Nicklaus, who has won 18. Woods, only 24, has won two already. Who knows what the future holds for this hugely talented young man?

We’ll learn part of that answer this week at the Masters, the tournament where the past and the present and the future collide in pleasing ways. Masters winners earn a lifetime exemption into the tournament, so former winners Gay Brewer Jr., Billy Casper (the 1970 champion who is playing his 43rd Masters), Charles Coody, Palmer, Gary Player, Art Wall Jr. and others are here. The betting is on Woods, but the pleasure is in paying attention to everything going on at the Augusta National Golf Club.

It’s the Masters, and so spring must be here. Here, where it’s possible to live in the past, and feel exhilarated by the newness that the tournament still brings, April after April after April.