You can sing Dixie off-key, you can say that, frankly, you don't give a damn for Rhett Butler, and you even can say that Jimmy Carter has cavities. But don't you ever say that the Augusta National golf course has skimpy, bumpy, soggy, sickly looking greens that remind you of a public links course after a hard frost.
Now those are fighting words.
If obscenities were spray-painted on the Sistine Chapel ceiling, it wouldn't cause any greater angst in Rome than the teeth-gnashing that has swept this town as it became obvious that the decision last summer to change its greens from Bermuda to bent grass has, at least for this year, been a disaster.
If blood could make grass grow faster, then the Augusta National Golf Club would have had volunteers lined up the length of Magnolia Lane for the last month, bleeding on the greens.
Unfortunately, no one, not even the patricians of golf, can rush nature.
For the first time in the annals of the sport, golfers were lined up today to take potshots at the Augusta National and the administrators of the course who, they fear, have abused a sacred golfing trust.
Nobody is quite ready yet to say the pin placements at this year's Masters ought to be in the parking lots because those are the only places you can find surfaces hard and fast enough to do justice to Bobby Jones' original design.
But that's the general drift. Professional golfers, you see, feel about greens they way most folks feel about greenbacks.
"Worst I've ever seen 'em," said Sam Snead, interrupting his bass fishing at dusk. "What I see is a Bermuda (grass) base with some rye. I don't see any bent. These are not Augusta greens.
"I know they don't like for you to talk about their golf course down here," said Snead, now in his sixth decade as a pro, "but all they've gotta do is go take a look at 'em."
Rumors have been rampant for months that Augusta National had had a run of both bad luck and bad management in its one-year transformation, in which every blade of grass on the old greens was exterminated and replaced. This was the day when dozens of top players finally got to see the truth for themselves.
"Every year everybody is screaming about how they have to find some way to get the greens to be as hard and fast as they used to be," said Snead's nephew J. C. "And every year we come and they're softer and slower and the scores go down. So, this year, they said they finally solved the problem with the new grass.
"And damned if today wasn't the slowest and softest I've ever seen 'em."
"If we get anymore rain, it'll just be dart-board golf," said Ben Crenshaw. "I sure hope it gets hot, dry and windy so the course'll bake out and play fast. Otherwise . . ."
"We all came in here today expecting these nightmare superfast greens, like they used to have," said two-time Open winner Hale Irwin. "It's incredible. They're slower and softer than ever.Today, I'd have hated to have been one of the men on the committee that decided (last summer) to change all the greens.
"If the course stays this soft, we'll have a new scoring record. The old record (271) might be broken by several people. I expect that by Thursday they'll decide to brush 'em, cut the grass right down to the roots. There's no reason to save 'em (the greens)."
For at least seven years, there's been a growing murmuring that the course simply wasn't playing as Jones had intended it to. Lightning-fast, nerve-destroying greens were essential to the original concept of a course that had no rough, few tapes, huge fairways and large greens.
If any sort of cavalier shot into the green was sufficient to make par, if an iron shot 10 yards above the hole held little fear for the miscreant who placed it there, then where were the teeth in this masterpiece of pastoral masochism? No wonder the winning scores, and the numbers posted by the whole field, had dropped by more than a stroke a round in recent years.
Lee Trevino blew the whistle when he said, "Come back in two months when the flowers are dead, call it the Hartford Open and everybody would shoot 265."
It should be noted that Augusta National suffers because of its own impossibly high standards. "I'd like to be stuck on these greens for the rest of my life," said Johnny Miller."We're comparing these greens to the wall-to-wall grass of the past. Right now, these greens are better than plenty that we play on tour."
Augusta's tender, young Penncross bent may have a thin and vulnerable look. In fact, the third, sixth and seventh greens have bare spots with a distinctly municipal look. The greens here may have been so fertilized and watered to induce growth that any mediocre iron shot lands and sticks like a bowling ball in a high-jump pit. And maybe the golfing fathers here did have terrible luck with a record hot September, a west washout of an October and a cold winter.
Nonetheless, few golfers here, even in this dark hour, doubt that Augusta is back on the right track.
"In a year or two, this course will be back to as great as it ever was," said Andy Bean. "But you have to realize that you can't make instant greens. You can't make grass grow by decree."
Augusta National thought it could.