It’s time for the Masters, the major tournament that embodies so much of what’s right and what’s wrong about golf. Let’s start with the good stuff, shall we?

The Masters, along with opening day in baseball, is an event of hope, proof that indeed the days are getting longer, and a sign that the warm days of May and June are really not all that far away.  The PGA season has been underway for months, but it has been a sojourn through vacation destinations:  Hawaii, the desert and Florida.  The arrival of the tour in Augusta signals to golfers in the northern latitudes that soon enough playing a round of golf will not require the purchase of a plane ticket or four layers of clothing.

As a venue, Augusta allows, in fact encourages, a bolder, more dramatic form of the game.  The US Open, on the other hand, with its brutal layouts and rough is more a war of attrition, where the winner is the last man standing.  It rewards steadiness, not boldness, and as a result a list of US Open champions includes more than a few of the charisma challenged professionals of their day.  The Open, played on golf’s Ur-courses, is a stage for creativity: the 125 yard bump and run, the intentional ricochet off the stonewall on the Road Hole at St. Andrews.

I’m not suggesting that there haven’t been brilliant shots at the other Majors–that would be ridiculous– but the Masters, without coincidence, is where many of the game’s most memorable shots have taken place: Phil’s six-iron on #13 in 2010, Bubba’s “Bend it like Beckham” wedge in the 2012 playoff.  The errant shot doesn’t land in the soggy shag carpet of a US Open or the gorse and brambles lining the fairways in Scotland.  Instead it sits on a bed of pine needles in a grove of trees whose low-lying limbs were trimmed away long ago, saying to the player, “Go ahead, go for it.”

The shots may also be more memorable for another reason.  To some degree all golfers in the US have two home courses: the one they play regularly and Augusta.  One is our real home course and the other is our fantasy home course.  Think about it.  If you’re a golf fan, you know that course, or at least the back nine, by heart.  Thus the Masters captures the essence of our own less attractive version of the game: a series of unpredictable events on a very familiar stage.

Perhaps more than any other course, the camera angles at the Masters, particularly on the par-5’s on the back nine, convey the image of the golfer as heroic figure. You see the player from the rear, framed against a backdrop of Georgia pine and flower, the well guarded green far in the distance.  These are often the decisions and shots that determine the outcome of the tournament, and all you see is the player and the course. On holes like 12, 13 and 15 there is no gallery clustered around the green. All you see is golfer, club and ball.  There is a purity to it that is somewhat unique in the game as a telecast event.  We are a long ways from the 16th at the Phoenix Open.

But enough of this. Let’s get snarky.  What about the bad stuff?

Well, since we were just talking about television, let’s segue to the CBS coverage. Whoa, let’s lather on the treacle shall we?  It’s enough to cause Type B mental diabetes, a condition brought on by over consumption of hyper-sentimentality.  And the music as they go to commercial breaks?  Really? I’m not advocating for hip-hop or heavy metal,but  could we have something different, please?  It’s like lounge music for a nursing home.

Which brings us to the telecast tagline, a “tradition unlike any other.” Well folks, the sad truth is that the traditions at Augusta are unfortunately not that unique, just more entrenched.  And of course I’m talking about Augusta as a bastion of privileged white maleness, an image that impedes the growth of the game as much as pace of play.  While those of us involved in the sport can point to as many indicators of diversity in today’s game as we can find, the image of the game from the outside remains locked in this stereotype of country club life.  We can have moments such as 2001 when the traditional victor’s ceremony featured Vijay Singh helping another man of color, Tiger Woods, put on his second green jacket, but the reality of Augusta in 2018 is that it is an organization that only six years ago had to be dragged into the 1980’s when it finally relented and let two women in as members.

But wait, there’s more!  Augusta isn’t content with merely being retrograde when it comes to membership policy.  You have to be especially reverent when you’re there or even when talking about the place.  (This latter advisory  is an obvious reference to Gary McCord’s simply brilliant observation in 1994 that the closely mowed 17th green had been “bikini-waxed.”  For this impropriety the Masters asked that he be banned from the CBS broadcast team.  He has never returned.)  If you’re there as a spectator, be careful not to run or lie on the grass, and never, never wear your golf cap backwards, because all of these are violations of the sharia law that governs conduct on the sacred grounds of Augusta.

In fact I’ll tell you exactly how uptight Augusta is.  I just read that Bobby Jones felt that it was inappropriate to refer to Augusta as having “front” and “back” nines because–wait for it– this might lead people to go one step further and talk about the course’s back side.

But, here’s the catch.  Will I be watching? Of course.  Am I happy that it’s Masters Week? You bet.  Will I root for the kind of finish we had last year? Oh yeah.  All of this is true despite my misgivings about the place.  I just have to take the good with the bad.