I never quite understood the love affair with the sport of golf. I understood even less the obsession with “The Masters”; I’d convinced myself that attending this nationally revered wasn’t that big of a deal.Well, now I understand what all the fuss was about and I know it’s more than just a simple golf tournament.
As most of you who read regularly (thanks mom) know, I was born and raised about two and one-half hours south of Augusta, in Savannah, Georgia and I didn’t think much of The Masters growing up because I wasn’t much into golf and the sport I did love—baseball—always began around that time; it’s no secret I’m a lifelong Braves fan and live for baseball season. That said, watching, following, or even attending the tournament during that time could not have been further from my mind.
By the time I was old enough to know what The Masters was about, I simply wasn’t drawn to it—not just because it wasn’t appealing, but also because a guy from my socio-economic background couldn’t afford to get in—so why think about it? And, to be quite honest, I always figured the day I could afford to get into Augusta National as a spectator for this fabled tournament, spending that kind of money to do it would be the last thing on my mind—did I mention I grew up a baseball fan?
But this wasn’t about golf, really; and quite frankly it wasn’t about money (I’d like to give a shout out to David Meltzer, Warren Moon, and Scott Carter who I intern for at Sports1Marketing for granting me the passes and the opportunity to attend last week. Awesome), this was about having the chance to witness an event which led me to a completely different experience than I’ve ever had in the world of sports. I was able to attend the “holy grail” of American golf tournaments and I’m a completely different person/professional because of it.
I’m not going to get all religious, but I hope that some of you reading this understand that despite the bones in that clubs closet, despite what has been written, and despite any and all perceptions, The Masters is the only event I would want to attend year-in-and-year-out above any and all others.
By now I’ve convinced a lot of you that I’m crazy. Hear me out!
I understand the draw of the Super Bowl, the BCS title games, heck if my Braves (my currently 11-1 Braves thank you) were in the World Series (or any World Series match-up) believe me, I understand the draw. But entering the front gate of Augusta National it hit me that I was doing something culturally different; kind of like the feeling many experienced when they entered old Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park (or how I would imagine Wrigley Field would feel). Yet it was unique still. You’re walking along land that, at least for me, I never dreamed of being near.
I don’t claim to be a sports writer (I still hold delusions of grandeur that some director/movie/TV guy will think I’m funny and hire me to write scripts for them), but I will try to paint the picture like this: when you’re with your buddies, and you’ve been to a game, be it NFL, MLB, NBA or whatever, and they say afterwards yeah that was great, but I can probably have more fun watching this on my television. This event isn’t one of those “more fun on television things.”
I’m not a golfer or a golf follower, I know a few of the more well-known guys to keep myself in the know; but to see the sign that read “Playing today, but not competing in the tournament” with a list underneath naming the legendary Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, I couldn’t help but get goosebumps; a real “holy crap this is cool” moment for a sports fan.
Then you see the caddies in white, with their respective golfer’s names on the back, and you can’t help but think Am I honestly here? As we walked in (I was with one other guy) we walked out onto the course to try and navigate our way around when at the 9th crossway (I trust you don’t think I’m sounding smarter about this than I am) we were greeted at the waist by a rope letting us know play was resuming for that hole. From there, I looked to my right and noticed a golfer among the pine trees who was, obviously, in a bind—the golfer was 2004 Masters champion Phil Mickelson.
Mickelson proceeded to take a few practice swings (lefty of course) before unloading a shot that made me realize that golf is played at a higher level than anything I could mentally understand. From about 275-yards out, among pine trees and pine needles, he hit a shot within four feet of the hole. It was the first time I’d ever seen anything like it in person and my initial thought was if Tiger Woods is better than that something isn’t right.
It couldn’t possibly get any better.
Enter 2011 U.S. Open and 2012 PGA Championship champion Rory McIlroy. His group came through and, from about 300-yards on the fairway, he hit to within ten feet of the cup.
I was in a different world indeed.
I had an all-access view of the course I’d seen hundreds of times on television and in pictures. I saw the scoreboards adorned with flags from different countries, and the names of today’s great golfers. I walked the pine tree and azalea lined paths to iconic spots like “Amen Corner”, Hogan’s Bridge, Eisenhower’s Tree, Rae’s Creek, Sarazen Bridge, and even got lost enough before leaving to walk down Magnolia Lane. It was as beautiful as pictures and television make it every April and was another reminder of why I love my home state of Georgia so much.
My only “what a bummer” moment was that I didn’t have my phone because they confiscate all electronics before they even scan your pass.
As spectacular as the golf was (and believe me, these men are athletes) it was more about what the club represented for me as an individual that overwhelmed me. being black and at Augusta National, in a non-working capacity, meant something to me. It meant that I was not only in one of the most exclusive places in the world watching golf’s premiere major of the season, it meant that I must be doing something right in a sense. That, at 29-years old, someone thought enough of me to hire me, grant me this opportunity, and once inside treat me like someone with something relevant to offer—like I belonged.
Then I realized that isn’t black or white, folks, that’s what we all strive for. I never once felt as though I was an outsider or looked down upon which, to be completely honest, was what I was somewhat expecting to feel. In fact, lots of the interaction I had with those attending were quite positive. That isn’t to say they are representative of Augusta National, but any preconceived notion I had before going in was changed. These were people who had been successful, had worked hard, and were enjoying what they wanted because they could. It represented to me what working hard was supposed to be about. You could overhear conversations that took place and know these are people who don’t take much time off, and when they do they enjoy it. That, culturally, is sometimes a lot different than what some envision.
Being around affluence isn’t foreign to me, I have been around, conversed, and worked with people of considerable wealth before. It was, however, a different view into how sometimes we should all take a step back from race, politics, etc. and understand life (and other people) can be enjoyed amid all the clutter that surrounds a particular venue or sport. Their wealth isn’t something to covet because, the beauty of this country is, you can obtain your own.
Yes, I get there are situations in life that aren’t fair, and I am 100% aware that being black can be seen unfavorably by a lot of people without perspective. But let me reiterate my point: I’m 29-years old, attending the Masters, and it is because I made a positive enough impression on someone to give me that opportunity. Simply put: I took advantage of opportunities that were given me because of lessons I learned growing up. One of which was to work hard and do the very best you can. In fact the day before the Masters began I had the privilege of working sponsorship booths in 90 degree weather and humidity that reminded me why I seek refuge in the mid-Atlantic: to further earn my keep and that opportunity; which made what I took away from the experience that much greater.
I am not rich, I’m still working to reach the type of respectability and comfort which will allow me the ability to provide for my family in a way that is in harmony with my beliefs. I’m looking to take my shot at the American Dream—and I feel confident that it’s there for the taking if I take the steps to get there.
But I digress.
I am fully aware of Augusta National’s checkered past of inequality in regards to women and African-Americans. Believe me, as I walked up to the gate and saw that a majority of the ticket scanners and ushers were African-American, and the symbolism of Augusta National’s Plantation-like feel came into view, I understood that even today there preconceived notions can be hard to shake, but that didn’t affect how I felt being a native of Georgia, attending the Masters for the first time. I don’t condone their actions from the past, but I hope and advocate for better in the future, either way I still learned something valuable.
If you didn’t get any of that last paragraph you aren’t alone. neither did I.
I look forward to the future because one of my goals is to be in attendance regularly. The Masters isn’t like any sporting event you have ever been to and it’s something I hope to experience again soon.