Jack Whitaker, CBS-TV's snowy-haired voice of eloquence in the often artless world of television sports commentary, was soaking up sun and scene from his favorite spot at the Augusta National Golf Club: the second-floor porch of the rembling, graceful plantation-style clubhouse.

Whitaker has worked the television towers on every hole from the 13th through the 18th at Augusta, but this remains his preferred vantage point for observing the Masters Tournament, straight through the gnarled branches of a grandfatherly old tree that always has a sweet young thing on its arm-the fragrant lavender blossoms of wisteria.

The tree is a Georgia Hackberry-"the oldest of its kind in the United States," according to a small identifying plaque at its base. The blushing wisteria is a vine that has wrapped itself around the hackberry's aged limbs like a lilac intent on social climbing.

Two majestic, 250-year-old oaks nearby also have plaques, like the hackberry. The clinging wisteria is not officially identified.

It is undeniably lovely, but perhaps a bit too pushy for this society. Newcomers can surely become a part of Augusta National without deep roots. But they shouldn't expect placecards.

The Masters is more than a golf tournament. It is a captivating celebration of the season. And like all events that transcend their parochial boundaries, it touches a cross-section of people in different ways, and means many different things to them.

For the Northernmiddle class, palefaced and weary of winter, it is a flowery rite of spring. Major league baseball has already begun, but frequently in Siberian weather. The Masters is the real Easter Parade of sport, an event for new bonnets and old golf clubs.

For the Georgiagentry, it is a showcase of their idea of gracious living . . . and for some, a museum of the way life used to be before hypocritical Yankees imposed their idea of a social conscience on the Old South.

For 72 invited golfers, the Masters is the first major title of the year, a unique professional challenge in which the prize purse-never announced until after the tournament, and puny by modern standards-is clearly of secondary importance to the champion's green jacket.

For aficionados, it is a championship rich in character, on a fascinating course designed for excitement, at a club where tradition hangs invisibly but palpably from out of town, another stop on their "major league circuit."

For the tournament committee, commanded by officers uniformed in green blazes, it is an organizational and logistical exercise worthy of a full-scale military operation. Their army of more than 2,000 workers carriers out every phase with spit-polish attention to detail.

For Jack Whitaker, like many others, the Masters is business and pleasure-the microphone in his TV tower, and the clubhouse porch.

The tower is where he works, helping bring the Cadillac of golf telecasts to a vast and decidedly "upscale" audience in the U.S. and 10 foreign countries. His primary responsibilty this year is to announce play at the 16th hole, a 190-yard par-3 called "Redbud," over a pond dyed blue-green for TV to a green of typically harrowing Augusta contours.

Five-time Masters champion Jack Nicklaus has called this "the most exciting scene in tournament golf," and it is typical of the dramatic and picturesque back nine at Augusta.

Whitaker must constantly remind himself to convey the nuances of the hole as he has ascertained them from painstaking interviews with players, and resist the urge to wax poetic. "That's the challenge we all face in htis business," he says. "To be informative, and let the pictures describe."

Up on the clubhouse porch, when he is not working, Whitaker can savor the pictures for himself.

The view from here is striking-a panorama of the club, with the brightly dressed galleries shuffling across a splendid watercolor landscape.

In the distance are groves of towering pines, deeply rooted in the red Georgia clay, and clusters of the flowering trees and shrubs that give Augusta National its matchless bloom of spring.

Azaleas, magnolia and dogwood come together in a stunning blaze of pink that ranges from pastel-pale to fuchsia shock.

All 18 holes at Augusta National are named for flora growing on the course. It is not yellow jasmine's time of year, but it's nice to know it's there, along with camellia, flowering peach, fire thorn and so many others.

"The Masters is automatically memorable because it is so different from any other event. The time of year, the beauty of the place, all work for it," said Whitaker.

"You get it all from this porch-the vignettes that make it special, the marvelous conversations," he continued, gesturing first out toward the course, then behind him to the grill and pub room ("Gentlemen Only") where his buddies-CBS colleagues, writers, entertainers, sports and business leaders-drink, chat and make friendly wagers.

'Masters Is a Reunion'

"The Masters is a reunion, not only for the golf community but for a much broader sporting set. And what a mixture of personalities. I'll never forget a conversation we had on this porch involving Sonny Jurgensen, Alistair Cooke, Billy Kilmer and Henry Longhurst-who's gone now," Whitaker added, his voice suddenly low in fond and respectful memory of the great British golf writer-commentator who died last winter.

Whitaker clearly relishes this setting and company. And so one comes to appreciate how painful must have been his exile, for he was banished from Augusta from 1967 through 1972 by the late Clifford Roberts, the autocratic cofounder who directed the Masters with absolute authority and manic attention to detail from its inception in 1934 until his death in 1977.

Whitaker's offense came during the telecast of the 1966 Masters, which Jack Nicklaus won in a playoff over Tommy Jacobs and Gay Brewer. There was no "sudden death" then, as is the case now, and so the three men who had tied for the lead after 72 holes vied for the green jacket in an 18 hole playoff on Monday.

As they came to the 18th green, Whitaker described the crowd closing in behind the players on the fairway as being "like a mob scene in the gathering dusk."

"I didn't mean they were unruly. I was just trying to indicate how many people there were, and how enthusiastically they were applauding the champion, for that scene on the 18th fairway is a stirring part of this tournament," Whitaker recalls now.

But ever-so-image-minded Clifford Roberst, who monitored every facet of the Masters personally and was distressed if a single blade of grass or word seemed out of place, was appalled.

A mob scene! Mobs are what General Sherman drove through Georgia, and what General Motors drives through the wrong side of Augusta. Galleries, polite and well-heeled in golf etiquette, view the Masters. Never mobs.

Because of the Masters' enormous prestige, Roberts and singular clout with CBS Sports. He decided to forego a large part of the rights fee the tournament could have commanded in exchange for a limit on the commercialism he so studiously kept off the club grounds; as a result, Masters telecasts have only four commercial minutes in every hour, less than half the number on comparable events.

He also insisted on the right to veto CBS's choice of commentators, and so he relegated Whitaker to the mob outside wrought-iron gates that lead down Magnolia Lane to Augusta National.

"Offically, I was never told why. Mr. Roberts never said anything to me personally," Whitaker syas now. "Eventually, over the year I was shut out, the thing kind of turned around and I got a lot of sympathy. But that first year, I was terribly, terribly hurt.

"I didn't come back until 1973, and I wasn't supposed to work that year. CBS Sports does a lot of entertaining here, and they said 'Come on down, as our guest'."

Welcome, But Nameless

He was to have been welcome, but nameless-like the wisteria. However, Henry Longhurst took sick and could not work the telecast, and CBS wanted Whitaker to take this place.

"We went to see Mr. Roberts about it." Whitaker still always refers to the grand old man of the Masters, even posthumously, as Mr. Roberts. "He had forgotten, or at least forgiven, the 'mob' incident, and said 'Fine, go ahead.' I've worked the Masters ever since.

Looking out ot eh left from the porch, one sees a row of seven neat, white, black-shuttered "cottages," which are actually spacious carriage houses in the antebellum style. The most famous is Eisenhower Cottage, where "General Ike," a close friend of Clifford Roberts, spent golf vacations during and after his presidency.

Eisenhower's caddie-a man nicknamed "Cemetery"-is still here. Or, more precisely, he is back. He joined a band and played gigs throughout the South after General Ike died, but has returned to Augusta National as a kind of assistant caddie-master.

As in Eidenhower's time, he remains tight-lipped about the presidential golf rounds he witnessed-a discretion, one presumes, for which he was tell paid.

The Masters is the only tournament on the American professional tour in which players are obligated to use the club's caddies, rather than those who travel regularly with them on the tour.

All the caddies are black, and except for porters, waiters, bartneders, groundsmen and other laborers, practically the only black faces one sees at the Masters.

All of them know Augusta National, which pro Joe Inman calls "a course so subtle that it will eat you alive unless you know when to be agressive and when to play safe."

Several Augusta caddies have gone on to work the toru full-time. One-long-hitting Jim Dent-has become a tour player, although his accomplishments have not qualified him yet for the elite Masters field that only one black golfer, Washington Lee Elder, has penetrated.

Elder, playing in his fourth Masters, is something of a common man's hero in Augusta.Chauffeurs run across parking lots to shake his hand, workers in the clubhouse to out of their way to say, "Way to go, Lee. Shoot the lights out today."

"I never thought of myself as the working-man's man, but they show it, so I guess I am," said Elder, 45. "They're always coming over to say hello and wish me luck, and I want to leave them with a positive impression that Lee Elder is a nice guy, not an uppity one."

Veteran With a Bag

Tom Watson's caddie is a 39-year-old bank maintenance man named Leon McClatty, who is working the masters for the 20the time.

"He's a good ole Scotsman," said the 1977 champion with a grin. Watson sent McClatty a set of irons last Christmas.

McClatty has carried Watson's bag all six years he has played at Augusta, and so now can afford to tell a story on himself, about when he was "yound and lazy."

His first year, 1960, he caddied for a fat amateur, who got disgruntled when McClatty took his bag into the clubhouse and put it away after 18 holes of the first practice round. The kid wanted more work, and so dumped the uncooperative caddie for a new one: Willie Peterson.

The amateur, of ocurse, was Jack Nicklaus. Peterson has been his caddie here ever since profiting handsomely from Nicklaus's record five championship.

McClatty, meanwhile, did not get another significant bag until Watson came along.

It is a measure of how mauch the Masters means to Augusta that Friday morning's local newspaper devoted the entire top half of its front page, with full-color photos, to the tournamenament, relegating a report that the city's police department had been put into receivership by a court to the lower left-hand side of the page.

The same edition carried a story about how the Masters was Georgia's most important magnet for drawing leaders of business and industry to the state, at which point the Chamber of Commerce could make a pitch for having them establish plants or branch offices here.

Masters week in Augusta is indeed a hotbed of corporate entertaining. Companies rent private homes, or entire hotels, for exorbitant sums. Executives from across the country are invited for a long weekend of golf and frolic among the azaleas One observer indelicately referred to this scene as "the biggest, classiest whorehouse in the Soth."

Many of the businessmen fancy themselves as Rhett Butlers in double-knits. So wheree is Scarlet O'Hara?

Her name is shirley, and she's from Chicago, but not to worry, Mr. Executive. She can ring with any Southern Belle.

A woman identified only as "Rose" went on a local talk show on WGAC Radio here the other evening. She is a madame who had contracted with half a dozen sports-loving call girls to come to Augusta, for the Masters. They knew the crowd, having worked Kentucky Derbies, Super Bowls and Indy 500s before. "They're big leaguers," assured Rose.

Masters Special

Every business in Augusta seems to have a Masters Special. Usually, the price is inflated-a $25 motel room for instance, going for $45 per diem iwht a four-day minimum.

But there are exceptions, Dr. Madonna, a palmist operating on Washington, amid the stretch of fast-food joints that are within a quarter-mile of Augusta National but seem a million miles away is advertising a special $5 reading this week onlyu.

Not so the ticket scalpers who congregate at the club gates, for they are offering a rare and precious commodity. Masters tickets are strictly limited. About 40,000 are thought to be issued each year, although the official number is never revealed.

Since last year's patrons are offered the offereed the first chance to buy, the gallery consists primarily of repeat customers. There is a waiting list now closed, of 15,000 would-be buyers. They remain hopeful, because a club rule expressly forbids Masters ticket-buying options to be bequesthed in wills.

Every year, club officials issue pleas to people who do not have tickets not to come to Augusta, and every year they come thousands of miles, anyway.

Their only recourse, usually, is the scalpers who regularly command $200 or more for a four-day series badge with a face value of $45.

Only series badges, no individual day tickets, are issued, but different scalpers will supply a badge for $50 a day to different customers, like a condominium being rented to vacationers a week at at time. Naturally, a deposit must be left to assure return of the badge9

One rather scruffy scalper haggled with a nattily dressed man this morning, then settled for his gold watch as collateral.

It seemed such a small price to pay for such pleasure. CAPTION: Picture, Andy Bean is on the flawless green and the backdrop is typically picturesque Augusta scene. UPI