Editor’s note: This column originally published on April 9, 2002.
It used to drive me crazy when April came and sportswriters stopped writing about sweat and started writing about azaleas. The land in which I grew up was covered with snow, and I’m not sure I could identify an azalea. Roses I knew. Roses were the flower you gave out on birthdays, anniversaries and when you had been bad.
Then one April I went to Augusta National and learned about azaleas. Although I’m not a fan of golf, I became a fan of the Masters.
Everybody that walked onto the course seemed to realize they had not simply stumbled upon it. They had attained it.
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Here was the rare place that bowed to neither television nor time. The club moved at a certain speed, and it wasn’t going to accelerate just because the rest of the world had.
Although the club has made several changes this year, it’s only because of the rigid tradition that most of these changes are even talked about.
My favorite memory of Augusta National is not of walking the course or spending time with Sam Snead, who led me into a room restricted to former champions that I realized too late I had no right to be in.
It was watching an old man, a spectator, demonstrate why this is no golf coarse. He had accidentally dropped a piece of paper onto the grass and was trying to pick it up before it blew away. His back was stiff, and I swear he needed 30 seconds to bend over to grab the paper. But it was essential to him that he grab it, and he finally did. He understood his obligations.
Not everybody does. The driver in front of me in southeast Charlotte on Elm Lane late Monday morning flicked a cigarette out his window onto the street. I honked – the cigarette had activated my car’s redneck detection devices – and when he turned around to look, I caught his gaze. He was shocked. What’d I do?
I doubt the guy drove off thinking, “Boy, I sure wish I had a chance to thank that stranger for teaching me about one’s obligations in a civilized world.” But at least I made him look.
Some of us are not so civilized. Fans in Cleveland don’t like a call at a football game, so they throw bottles onto the field. Fans don’t like the way a player looks or the place he comes from, so they spend four quarters insulting him. Fans of the home team believe officials made a secret blood pact to favor the opponent, so they spend the evening screaming at them.
We need one place where spectators don’t check their brains at the door, and I hope Augusta National still is that place. The reverence with which people – golfers, fans, the media – talk about it all but ensures it is.
What distinguishes a venue is the way we treat it. The old man is ancient now, and if he drops a piece of paper, it might be dark before he collects it. But I bet he still does.
I have little interest in the Masters. It’s baseball season, and there are key NBA games to be played. But I’ll turn on the TV at least once to watch.
I want to see how the azaleas are doing.