I am not a golf fan per say. I enjoy sports in general and closely follow several including Rugby Union, Football, American football and Tennis, but there is one long weekend in early April every year where I overlook Premiership clashes and rackets in favour of the stunning scenery and nastily challenging course at Augusta National. Having never actually picked up a golf club, I am nonetheless intrigued by the battle of wills that takes place on the fairways at the world’s most beautiful golf course. As the pictures dot between Amen corner and the do or die at the 16th, those whose interest in golf is limited during the rest of the year to the question “is Tiger playing?” are swept up with the emotional tension of the course and the ability for players to rise and sink in an instant.
Why does the Masters stand out as the golf event for those who couldn’t tell between a putter and a nine iron? Firstly, it never gets boring. In the last five years, only once has the golfer finishing ahead at the end of the first day ended up winning the tournament outright (Jordan Spieth, who swept the field in 2015). In each of the others, the lead has changed hands on several occasions, with 2012 particularly exciting with Lee Westwood, Fred Couples, Jason Dufner and Peter Hanson all holding the lead at one stage with Bubba Watson ultimately triumphing in the play-off against Louis Oosthuizen. And although certain players are Masters specialists (I would place Fred Couples, Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson in this bracket), the course can never be taken for granted and demands respect. Mickelson tied for second at Augusta in 2015 only to fail to make the cut last year, whereas last year’s winner Danny Willett shot a disastrous 78 in his second round this year and similarly was cut.
The tradition that surrounds Augusta is also deeply appealing, the non-existence of fans, only patrons, the Champions Dinner that usually involves dishes native to the previous year’s winner and the lack of outside buzz. In football, many fans are just as interested in the personal lives of their favourite players as their ability to strike the ball, whereas at Augusta, ability is the over-riding concern. The exposure the tournament generates for players who often fall off the radar is also hugely beneficial for the sport as a whole. I had never heard of Charley Hoffman, John Rahm or William McGirt before the tournament began, but now I am willing them on and will likely hear their names again in the future. As for old timers such as Westwood, Justin Rose, Sergio Garcia and Paul Casey, there is always the hope they will succeed at the Masters for the first time, having battled the course on and off for over a decade. There is still the possibility that their travails of previous years will eventually come good.
And of course the weather. Everyone wants to see challenging golf, but no one wants to see it being played in gale force wind, in a rainstorm, on a Scottish hill side. Augusta usually provides a serene and engaging visual spectacle based upon the beautifully maintained greens and fairways, the charming but perilous water features and the perfectly cut bunkers. It is truly satisfying when golf collides with these features, players having to play out from behind the trees, stand on slopes to chip balls nestled dangerously close to the water or getting it right on the first try and hearing the roar go up from the watching crowds. Long may it stay this way.