The Masters is more than a golf tournament, more even than one of the four major major golf tournaments. It's the celebration of spring and a sport, its past and present, staged in an Eden of dogwood and wisteria. It's a four-day notion of paradise.
St. Peter, it turns out, is a Southern white-haired Pinkerton who waves you in at the front gate off life's highway: traffic is snarled; the signs read "factory outlet," "water beds," "Piggly Wiggly."
Inside, at the end of a magnolia-lined lane, is a white, plantation-style mansion. From a second-floor veranda in back, you can peer through branches of an ancient hackberry tree to a vista of clipped green fairways and tall pines. The sight is breathtaking enough to keep one fixed there in his chair all four days.
But if one chooses to move, he might be advised of a message on page one of a green booklet entitled "Spectator Suggestions" written by the late Bobby Jones, "president in perpetuity" of Augusta National:
" . . . It is appropriate for spectators to applaud successful strokes in proportion to difficulty but excessive demonstrations by a player or his partisans are not proper because of the possible effect upon other competitors.
"Most distressing to those who love the game of golf is the applauding or cheering of misplays or misfortunes of a player. Such occurrences have been rare at the Masters but we must eliminate them entirely if our patrons are to continue to merit their reputation as the most knowledgeable and considerate in the world."
An example of proper celebration occurred Friday at the par-4 third hole. With an eight-iron, Curtis Strange hit a ball 137 yards, the last 20 coming on a roll across the green. The ball dropped into the cup. Eagle. What restraint! When Strange bent to retrieve the ball, he simply held the position a few extra seconds, savoring the feeling. He went on to shoot a 65. "I'm not going to forget this round for a long time," he said afterward.
Of course, unseemly things can happen. As on Friday, when Craig Stadler hit a man on the head with his drive at No. 13. Remarkably, the victim had the dignity to remain standing. Said Stadler: "I've learned many of the places where I shouldn't hit the ball. Of course, I still find new ones in every round."
Everything here is green. Green jackets, green shirts, green slacks, green caps, green visors, green cups to drink out of, little green pencils to keep score with, white caddie coveralls trimmed in green, a green press building. An obvious entrepreneur, who had flown into Augusta in his private plane just for the day, told the cab driver who let him off to pick him up at 4 p.m. Said the cabbie later: "I'll be on time. He doesn't mind loosening up the green."
Two ways not to bother anyone during a Masters round:
Today, a green-coated member and his young son came around the clubhouse with a fishing rod and little bag of bait. "Going over to Ike's Pond," said the man, heading down the slope behind the Eisenhower cabin near the 10th tee. The small boy held onto the sleeve of his father's green Masters jacket. They'd be back by the time the leaders teed off.
A few yards off the eighth fairway Thursday, a man stretched out in repose, white cap tilted over his eyes, arms folded across his chest. Was he alive? Someone from a passing gallery took a closer look. "Yep."
Every day, the players arrive with a pomp normally accorded heads of state. They're driven up every few minutes in white Cadillacs to the front of the clubhouse. As the cars stop, their trunks go up automatically, a caddie emerges to take the equipment, the crowd converges for autographs, a television cameraman comes in for a close-up and often a reporter asks a question. But, wait, there's a spectator with a camera and, not surprisingly, a security officer at his shoulder.
"I'm afraid I'm going to have to relieve you of your camera," said the officer, with the kind of courtesy Jones would have approved.
"I didn't know," said the man. "I've never been here."
"That's how come you don't know," said the officer gently, taking the camera in exchange for a red stub to be exchanged by the owner on the way out.
Smile, but not for the camera.
Arguably, one problem with the PGA Tour is that no one since Arnold Palmer has come along with a personality to match his. What's more, it's hard to keep Danny Edwards straight from David Edwards and Jay Haas from Jerry Haas. Two players determined to forge their own identities are Payne Stewart, who dons plus fours, and Gary Hallberg, who wears a fedora.
But Stewart's red and white outfit makes him look like an ice cream man, and sometimes when Hallberg takes off his hat during a round he seems unduly hot with a perspiring forehead.
In contrast, Gene Sarazen still looks as though he was born to wear knickers. At 83, he teed off Thursday with Sam Snead -- you wouldn't want to see him without his straw hat -- to start the tournament. In their honorary capacity, they played nine holes -- Sarazen shot 42, Snead 39 -- and then melted into the crowd as old Masters do. It was 50 years ago that Sarazen made his immortal double eagle at 15. Time passes quickly. As 1970 winner Billy Casper said Friday, after playing his 100th Masters round, "It's hard to believe I've been around that long."
Yet some Masters memories are sustained by the presence of young amateurs like Sam Randolph, Jerry Haas and John Inman -- reminders of the most famous amateur, Bobby Jones. For three days, Randolph has been paired with Masters champions: Gay Brewer, Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus. Randolph has played like a pro. "Nice kid," said Watson.
Asked how he felt at the first tee on the first day, Randolph, a Californian, replied: "I just wanted to hit the ball and get going." At Nicklaus' side today, Randolph got a good idea of what can happen at the first tee: Nicklaus put his drive into a fairway bunker. From his look, you didn't have to ask how he felt, nor would you want to. The big crowd responded to his misfortune with silence.
As positively glorious as Augusta National is to see, it is quite another thing to play. It's caused Lee Trevino to stomp away, and stay away a good while. Tom Weiskopf took a 13 one year at the 12th hole; his ball kept rolling back into Rae's Creek. He's doing TV this year.
Never mind the back nine, says Strange, who's shot 65 and 68 after an opening-round 80, "the front nine is full of tough holes that the general public doesn't know about. The players know, we're here."
Many are tempted to change their games to fit the course. Gary Koch admits he has. "You've got to play your own game," he said. "I don't hit the ball as far as some. In previous years I've come in here and I've tried to hit it longer than I'm capable of."
You've got to take it nice and easy here, smell the flowers, even if you're playing.