Augusta – In reminding us that this is A Tradition Like No Other, the Masters comes perilously close to wallowing in the past. Nothing about the membership of Augusta National Golf Club (mostly white, mostly old, all male) suggests this crew would be familiar with any cutting edge not manufactured by Gillette.
And here again we realize: Appearances can deceive.
This place may be easy to lampoon, but this famously staid tournament is working to ensure its future. Innovation? From Augusta National? What’s next? Understatement from Lady Gaga?
Billy Payne, Augusta National’s chairman, quoted someone Wednesday — “No public event ever stands still; it either gets better or it gets worse” — and that someone wasn’t Steve Jobs. It was Clifford Roberts, who with Bobby Jones co-founded the Masters 75 years ago. (To his discredit, Roberts also said: “As long as I’m alive, golfers will be white and caddies will be black.” Roberts committed suicide in 1977.)
To hear Payne’s state-of-the-Masters briefing was to touch down in Bizarro World: A 63-year-old wearing a hideous green jacket — all green jackets are hideous, tradition or no — spoke knowingly and glowingly of the Android platform and the worth of the iPad Masters app as “an immersion experience.”
Also addressed: Augusta National’s startling plans to offer tickets to actual Masters rounds next year via an Internet lottery. One of this tournament’s least admirable traditions has been its iron-fisted control of entrance badges, but now the folks off Magnolia Lane are willing to crack, if not fully open, the door. “It’s not a good chance,” Payne said, speaking of winning the ticket lottery. “But it’s a chance.”
Someone asked about the ticket prices for practice rounds, which will rise from $36 to $50 next year. Said Payne: “It’s still a pretty good bargain.” And it is. The cheapest ticket for the aforementioned Gaga’s concert at Gwinnett on April 18 is $63.70, counting fees.
Speaking of concerts and golf: The music insider Bob Lefsetz included an e-mail from Marty Winsch in his Lefsetz Letter on Tuesday. Some highlights:
Went to the practice round yesterday at the Masters in Augusta, Ga. Was not my first time there, but I was thinking all day long, “If only major labels and big-time concert promoters got it like they did” … There were four of us. We ate twice for a grand total of $25. (No beer though.)
We felt so great about the experience that on the way out we each spent approx. $200 at the shop on hats, shirts, magnets for the fridge, hat clips, embroidered flags tumblers, T-shirts … and every one of these items had the Masters logo on them. Bottom line: We didn’t spend all of our money on things with no capacity to brand — food, drinks, parking, tickets. Instead, we spent the majority of our money on things that end up promoting the event via our homes, backs, heads, golf bags, et cetera.
The Masters has long been renowned for quality control and customer service, and now the tournament is making strides toward broadening its customer base. (While retaining the concept of Free Parking!) It has embraced the Internet — indeed, Payne was asked if the Masters on the Web would be seen as “his legacy as chairman”; he had no answer — but not, it must be said, the concept of on-course clutter.
Said Payne: “At least in my tenure, you’re not going to see any video boards.”
It wasn’t so long ago that Martha Burk and then-chairman Hootie Johnson were at loggerheads. Burk ultimately overplayed her hand, but not before Johnson managed to brand himself as an old coot. Augusta National still doesn’t have a female member, but somehow this place no longer seems a den of fuddy-duddies. There’s a world beyond the club gates, and Payne, who in a former manifestation brought the world to Atlanta, grasps as much.
Not that he’s an ace at all things newfangled. The Masters, in collaboration with EA Sports and Tiger Woods, even has a video game. As an immersion experience, the Chairman challenged his 12-year-old grandson Bo to an electronic round. “I quit after nine holes,” Payne said. “I told him my back was hurting. It was match play. He was up seven.”
By Mark Bradley