Augusta National has full control of The Masters, but is that a good thing?
Welcome to Masters Thursday, one of the biggest days on the golf calendar. For a few hours late this afternoon, we will be able to catch a glimpse of the first day of the first major of the year.
Before 3:00, we can rely on what little Augusta National allows us to see. This is their tournament, after all, a golf event wholly controlled by the club that hosts it. Augusta owns The Masters, and they own the television broadcast of the tournament as well.
No golf tournament anywhere in the world is like The Masters as a result. Other tournaments allow fans in the door, but at Augusta there are only patrons. Other tournaments tend not to give the broadcasters a set of words they have to say such as patrons, too.
Because Augusta National has full and complete control of the tournament, they can choose how much of it we the viewers are allowed to see. The amount they’ve chosen is “not enough,” and that scarcity means that every morning tee time on Thursday and Friday will exist in the hypothetical for those of us not going.
This is of course exactly how one would expect a club like Augusta to act. The first thing you know about the club is that it is enthusiastically exclusive. No place anywhere in the world is more convinced that golf is not for everybody than Augusta National, perhaps the most celebrated course in the country.
The club’s allure is mostly based in how you and I will almost certainly never get to play it, no matter where our lives take us. For the next four days, we will hear talk of membership in a way as though members of Augusta National are the chosen elite of society.
This spills into the tournament itself. Owning their own broadcast means that The Masters exists entirely on its own terms. They can start and end broadcasts whenever they wish. They can redefine the kind of person who attends their tournament. They can hand announcers guidelines on what they are and are not to say about the club. This is a testament to how successful The Masters is, that nobody can even find a way to fight this.
While the course is undeniably telegenic, and while The Masters has given the pro game so many of its greatest moments, there is something about the way Augusta is allowed to control its own narrative that does not sit right with every golf fan.
Golf is a sport that may not look like it is for everybody, with country clubs and expensive greens fees. Yet, as we watch the professionals, we realize that golf truly is for everybody.
Arnold Palmer came from humble beginnings in a part of western Pennsylvania known more for blue-collar workers and tough attitudes than country clubs and golf shirts. He went on to be one of the great legends of the game. Tiger Woods came from a military family, one not unlike many at MacDill right now. Lee Trevino came from places you would not expect to produce a golfer, and Seve Ballesteros grew up making his own clubs. John Daly became a crowd favorite, status he now carries with him on the Champions Tour, and Daly came from anything but an Augusta-like background.
Undoubtedly, Augusta National has come a long way in not too long of a period of time. Absences in their membership have been remedied to some degree, with a slightly more diverse membership than the club had in, say, 1988.
This is to the club’s credit. As a private organization, they are free to go any way they please on membership, and thus it could not be said that their still recent inclusion of women is at all the product of pressure put on the club. Nobody puts pressure on Augusta. That’s one of the reasons the club exists.
Everything Augusta National does, the things that make it so unique, are entirely within its scope. They’re not breaking any laws in celebrating exclusivity, nor are they alone in doing so. Brookline, MA is the home of The Country Club, a place so exclusive that Tom Brady had a house on property for years before he was accepted as a member. Clubs from coast to coast exist with various levels of exclusivity, some of them nearly impossible to enter.
However, no other golf club hosts its very own major every single year. Augusta’s exclusivity is almost celebrated, treated as a sort of promised land for the extremely well off golfer. That we will never play Augusta is considered a major part of the selling point for the tournament.
For now, we get to see what Augusta allows us to see. This means that you can start watching the first day of the tournament after every player has teed off. Before that, you can see featured groups on the tournament’s website, or check out Golf Channel coverage of a tournament they can’t show.
Perhaps this scarcity is what makes The Masters what it is in the golf world. A beautiful, immaculate course will only give us glimpses of its featured tournament. We will see as much of Tiger Woods as Augusta National wishes to show us, and not a second more.