Eye on the Ball: The Masters, another kind of golf

COURTESY PHOTO Living the dream — Islanders Bill Hannabury and his son Shane in front of the Augusta National clubhouse at the 2015 Masters in Augusta, Georgia during the tournament.
Living the dream — Islanders Bill Hannabury and his son Shane in front of the Augusta National clubhouse at the 2015 Masters in Augusta, Georgia during the tournament.

I am more than aware that technically March 21 is the first day of spring every year. But when you live on eastern Long Island you find that date laughable.

My reminder of spring is always in April and specifically when I see the beauty of everything blooming in Augusta, Georgia. The Masters you watched last week kicked off the season for 2015.

I took advantage of the retirement life this year and made myself comfortable every day, flopping in my favorite chair with my new large screen TV and watching almost every minute of Masters’ week. This year’s tournament was indeed something special with a magnificent 21-year-old, Jordan Spieth, winning the tournament in style by going wire to wire.

Two Shelter Islanders, Bill Hannabury and his son Shane were smart enough to be a part of it all by travelling to Augusta. The Hannaburys had a chance to father-and-son bond in a golfer’s idea of being in the most beautiful place in the world.

The beautiful land they play golf on at Augusta was purchased in 1930 by the great Bobby Jones and some friends. Before that, it was the Fruitland Nurseries where literally millions of peach trees had been planted. Jones and company found the land was also perfect for a great golf course; in 1934 it hosted its first Masters tournament.

The winner of that first tournament was a professional golfer named Horton Smith, a man I met at an educational forum in 1961. A lot of people are happy I met Mr. Smith since he wrote a book on the art of putting and I purchased a copy. All of you who have taken my money on the golf course since that purchase can personally thank the first Masters’ winner.

The Masters was the first to start a tradition that all tournaments follow today of stroke play over 72 holes. As beautiful and prestigious as Augusta National has become over the years, it’s never been known to gouge the patrons or members financially. Joining the club costs under $100,000 and if you play it with a member you are only charged $40 for a guest fee. For the patrons all food, hats and shirts are reasonably priced. Going though a list of all the rules, it seems like it might be a snobby place, but it’s far from it.

Bobby Jones, as you probably know, is considered by many as the greatest golfer of all time. In those early days at Augusta, his main partner was a man named Clifford Roberts, the Masters tournament chairman for 45 years, who enforced some very strict rules. Nobody loved Augusta National like Roberts and today they still talk about keeping the traditions set down by him alive. In 1977 tradtion turned into a kind of macabre tragedy, when Roberts, in bad health, walked out to the club’s par 3 golf course and took his own life. He died in the place he loved by firing one single pistol shot to his head.

Details that are different about the Masters and every other golf tournament are quirks such as not calling it a “championship.” The reason is people entering are not champions of anything, but are asked to an “invitational.” It is the only event that you can take your chairs and put them around the 18th green or any green at any time of the day.

No one will take them and you can sit in them all day. What we call “fans,” Augusta calls “patrons” and, of course, there are no sand traps, but only bunkers. Patrons don’t sit in “bleachers” but in “observation stands” and not on the “front” and “back” nine but on the “first” and “second” nine.

It’s awesome to witness the level of respect the patrons have during this tournament. In the over 50 years that I have been watching the Masters, I’ve never seen one spectator out of line. Marshalls do not have to hold up “Quiet Please” signs because everyone respects this tournament.

More than 40 years ago, I remember when the legendary CBS commentator Jack Whitaker used the term “mob” to describe a scene around a green. Whitaker was never invited back again.

Although not a lot changes have been made from year to year, the changes have occurred have been well thought out and well done. The golf course has undergone a lot of work, including a few years ago when it was said that Tiger Woods made it look so easy that they would have to “Tiger Proof“ the course. The place will be buzzing after this year where Jordan Spieth tied Tiger’s record at 18 under par while the rest of the field’s scores were all lower than ever.

I like the tradition of presenting shamrock green blazers to the winners even if they have to return them the following year to their locker in the clubhouse. The jackets stay in the lockers to be worn when they come back to Augusta, and that happens at least every year when they return for the annual winners’ dinner. One of the traditions of the dinner is that the defending champion always picks the menu for the meal.

I also like the newest tradition started last year when three major golf organizations got together and started the drive, chip and putt competition. This event is open to boys and girls between the ages of seven and 15. It is backed by the USGA, PGA and the Masters and is held the Sunday before the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club. It has been a wonderful addition to this great tournament and continues to show the way decision-makers at Augusta think to make things even better.

The par 3 tournament, played on the day before the Masters, creates much enjoyment for many golfers and non-golfers, seeing the greatest players in the world in a fun environment. As a matter of fact, this year you saw possibly two of the greatest golfers who have ever lived playing in the same tournament.

Both Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus competed and 75-year-old Jack Nicklaus proved that golf is indeed the game of a lifetime. After playing in over 40 Masters, this year he got his first hole in one at Augusta National.

Unfortunately, both players were disqualified, Nicklaus for taking an illegal drop on the 9th hole and Tiger for allowing his daughter to tap a putt in the hole for him. It really didn’t matter on this day of relaxation since the goal of the day was sun, fun, spouses, celebs, kids and caddies. Kevin Streelman won the par 3 tournament this year and continued the tradition of the par 3 winner never winning the Masters.

It’s always a pleasure to see folks working hard so things will be done well. If you have a little time, just ask Bill or Shane Hannabury what they thought of the 2015 Masters.