Maybe this is just the natural progression of things ... sports are for the young. But this year Watson at age 60 was the oldest player in the field, and he shot an opening-round 67 (even while saying, repeatedly, that he was too old to compete on this course). He was tied for the lead until a 50-year-old, Fred Couples, shot 66. So the old guys can still show a bit of their local knowledge now and again.
Anyway, the point never was for the past champions to contend. The point was to have them out there because that was tradition. Parents could point them out to their children. Everyone could reminisce. That's mostly gone now. Three-time champion Nick Faldo was in Augusta to work as a TV analyst, but he did not play. Player, another three-time champion, did not play. Neither did Fuzzy Zoeller. The Masters is poorer for it.
Then there's the coverage. For years CBS begged for the right to telecast 18 holes on Sunday. CBS executive producer Frank Chirkinian—a man so serious about the Masters that he moved to Augusta full time—would remember the circular negotiations he would have with the Augusta National people. He would ask about extending coverage because there was so much interest in the Masters, and they would respond that there was so much interest in the Masters precisely because there wasn't a lot of coverage.
Chirkinian was at a huge disadvantage. The Augusta National folks, however anyone might feel about them, do not run the Masters for profit. They always bring the tournament to the people with "limited commercial interruption." And you will remember that when the protests over women members heated up—and there was pressure placed on some of the longtime advertisers of the Masters—Augusta National paid to air the tournament commercial-free.
They do not allow corporate tents. They would shut down the tournament before allowing a corporate sponsor to get naming rights. The price of food and drink is the lowest, surely, of any major sporting event. They limit ticket sales. The idea always has been to offer the perfect tournament experience, and for many, many years the Masters' idea of the perfect tournament experience meant no 18-hole coverage. Leave the people wanting more. Keep a little mystery in the place.*
*For years one of the great secrets of golf was what the 5th hole really looked like. It was never shown on television—the leaders were always on the 6th hole by the time coverage began—and it's very much out of the way for the spectators, er, patrons. The Augusta National people liked that.
In 2002, quite suddenly, Augusta National changed that too. CBS was allowed to start showing all 18 holes. This is one of the greatest things ever for golf fans, but again, it's different.
This year Augusta National unveiled a giant, state-of-the-art practice facility, a new entry gate and new free parking lots for the patrons (which has significantly cut down on the "wear an orange vest and wave wildly for people to pull into your mud pile" business that was always thriving during Masters week). There are new buildings and new TV camera positions and new flows of traffic for people to walk. They rolled out 3-D television, added a "featured pairing" on the Internet and expanded the web coverage on Amen Corner. It's a daily gold rush for golf fans. The Masters has gone from secretive and discreet to perhaps the most advanced media tournament in the world.
Most of these are great changes, but they are changes. The Masters is a very different tournament on a very different golf course with very different coverage from even just a few years ago. And yet—this is the magic of the place—somehow when CBS comes on the air and shows the azaleas in bloom and cues in that tinkling piano, it still feels the same. Maybe it's the magic of that piano music. You can be sure they're not going to change that anytime soon.
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