Ask a number of people around the world, both golfers and the general public, what is the greatest golf tournament and you likely get some variety of answers. Ask those same people what is the world’s favorite golf tournament and you most likely get an overwhelming winner, The Masters.
Why is that? The Masters is more than a golf tournament, it’s a ritual with a sporting event at its center. The mythology of the Masters, comes from various things; some carefully crafted by the Augusta National Golf Club, some carefully crafted by the media, from the experiences of anyone who has been to see it, and partially from anyone who sits in front of their screen and watches it from afar.
That aura is the result of the repetitive nature that is unique to the Masters amongst golf’s majors. The first full week of April, at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia; that is the schedule, always. And for the golf nut and the casual fan alike that routine has made The Masters more that just a golf tournament, it’s a rite of spring.
For those of us who live in Augusta that sense is compounded by all the little things that tell you that Masters is on the way. The signs and sheds begin to appear around the edge of the National, the streets get their annual clean-up, the grass on the freeway is cut the entire way to Atlanta. Friends suddenly can’t get together because they are madly preparing the house for their renters, while also trying to get ready to go away on vacation for a week.
And once Masters Week arrives, each year is largely the same. Certain restaurants are to be avoided, certain parts of town also. If you do go out you may see someone famous, or maybe an old friend who lives far away. There is the annual party where you see the same people, but it feels like a celebration every time. At my house the sound of the traffic in and out of the general aviation airport nearby comes at a steady interval, along with the whiff of jet fuel in the air, something I only notice one week a year.
It’s not a golf tournament, it’s a time of year. When the weather is at its nicest, the flowers are on display, and Augusta feels like the center of the universe.
When you live in Augusta this is something to be cherished. It’s a feeling of being on vacation while still at home. There are parties, there are friends (both regular and rarely seen), there is palpable energy. When you live in big cities, particularly global centers of culture and business, this is on some level ever present; but in Augusta, Georgia it comes once a year and lasts a week.
Yes, for the overwhelming majority of residents of Augusta it’s mostly just another week going about their daily lives. Away from the Augusta National much seems the same as normal. But everyone knows it’s Masters Week, and for that week it’s different to live here.
In 2020 the slow buildup to this magic time was underway. The early signs of tournament week could be seen, and anticipation was in the air. But as the talk around Covid intensified so did the real concern that there actually wouldn’t be a Masters. Discussions suddenly centered on exactly what that would mean; nobody had every really considered the possibility that the most important week of the year for Augusta wouldn’t happen. And so it came to pass. Seems silly now thinking that the cancellation of a golf tournament mattered given the totality of what was to come.
Every aspect of the hospitality industry in Augusta has Masters Week baked into their planning. There are a surprising number of people who spend their entire year building up to Masters. Home rental agencies, ticket brokers, package tour operators, they all have but a single egg in their basket, and it broke. Certain homeowners assume their home will rent, and in some cases for sums that are large enough that important decisions are made around that assumption. Mortgages, home enhancements, tuitions, rental money to cover costs is part of owning the right house. Masters happens every year, right?
It’s been a tough year for many, everywhere. The lack of Masters just brings it clearly into focus for many in Augusta. From families who suddenly lost a nice piece of income from home rental, to small business owners who lost a large portion of their business, and ultimately down to the workers who make all of those businesses happen. The teens who spend the week checking out patrons with huge baskets of coveted Masters gear at the Patron Shop at the course, the bartender who saw the biggest week of the year go “poof”, the hospitality company owner who suddenly had ZERO income for an entire year.
The 2020 Masters was a hollow shell of itself. The best that could be done given an environment nobody had ever anticipated. Lacking the sense of spring ritual, it almost felt like it didn’t happen. There was almost no sign about town that anything was out of the ordinary. A victory over the virus that it occurred at all, but still a massive loss for Augusta.
But 2021 brought back the feeling of a true Masters Week. The weather, the flowers, signs of life at the course that might have been reduced from normal, but certainly looked like tournament that we know and love. And for the locals who depend so much on the tournament it may have not been back to business as usual for everyone, but it was at least something they could recognize, maybe in some cases something that allowed them to make it till next year.
After a year that nobody every thought possible the 2021 Masters Tournament reflected a symbolic return to normal; which everyone who watched on TV needed just as much as those living in Augusta. The ritual of spring had returned. Seeing the perfection of the Augusta National Golf Club, the beauty of nature coming back to life on display, the beloved sameness of a television broadcast; it was salve for the soul. For those who live in Augusta it not only heals us, but it felt like we were offering a dose of that elixir to the world. Our annual moment of glory.