A tradition unlike any other . . . mercifully

Correction: A previous version of this column misstated ESPN’s coverage schedule of the Masters golf tournament for April 5 and 6. It plans to show 4.5 hours each day, not 3.5 hours. This version has been updated.


The Masters is truly compelling; the Masters commercials are truly sickening. (Rob Carr/Associated Press)

Does it ever seem like CBS uses the NCAA tournament as a three-week infomercial to promote The Masters? More than ever, it seems that way to me. Of course that would be untrue; CBS pays a boatload of money to the NCAA for the privilege of broadcasting March/April Madness.

It also pays a boatload of money to a private golf club for the privilege of denting the sacred blades of grass that grace the fairways of Augusta National Golf Club each April. The trouble is, CBS is less an outsider looking in and telling a story and more a lackey propagating the idea that Augusta is the Valhalla of the sporting world and that we should be watching, not from our recliners, but on bended knee.

It’s sickening. It won’t keep me from watching, but still, it’s sickening.

ESPN is not guilt-free in the arrangement; the Worldwide Leader has the first two days of live coverage. But ESPN has not been doing this long enough to have the fawning down to a science. CBS announcers do everything but genuflect before entering Butler Cabin.

That part I don’t watch, the cutaways from the actual golf to interview people in Butler Cabin’s easy chairs. What bothers me the most about all the side interviews and the azalea commentary and the hushed reminiscences of Amen Corner is the time it takes away from the live golf.

Because there is so very little of it. If you add up all the time CBS will spend touting the Masters during the three weeks of the tournament, and throw in ESPN’s efforts, I’m pretty sure it would come close to equaling 17 1 / 2 hours. And that’s how much live coverage we’ll get when the actual golf tournament takes place: 17 1 / 2.

ESPN will show 4 1 / 2 hours on April 5 and 6 (when sports writers will have to be physically restrained from breaking out the “Good Friday” leads). CBS will give us a grand total of 31 / 2 hours Saturday and a whopping five hours on Easter Sunday.

Now, there are fewer commercial interruptions during coverage at Augusta, so 4 1 / 2 hours of Masters coverage is not the same as, say, three hours of prime time TV, which amounts to about two hours of actual television.

And of course, ESPN and CBS would be happy to show a heck of a lot more golf on any and all of those days, never mind seder or Easter Egg hunts. But Augusta tightly controls the amount of wonderfulness it will allow the world to see each year, and for some reason, instead of angering CBS, ESPN or us, it seems to make us crave it that much more.

It’s probably the smart play for Augusta. TV is giving us more of everything, all the time. The 2012 Olympics will be shown ’round the clock and if you turn if off, Mary Lou Retton comes to your house and turns it back on. Next year’s Super Bowl Sunday coverage will actually begin the previous Saturday at 2 p.m. You can get too much of a good thing.

But you can also get too little. Of course, scarcity increases value, in theory. That is true in the case of Faberge eggs and Honus Wagner Sweet Caporal cards, but is it true of one of golf’s four majors? I’d say the sport needs fewer Masters commercials, and more Masters. And I say that with the proper reverence, and on bended knee.

For Tracee Hamilton’s previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/­hamilton.

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