On this second Sunday in April, 2014, I sat on the edge of the couch with Mort, my 82 year old Dad, and his 21 year old grandson Aaron; my only child. It was Masters Sunday; 63 holes played, only the back nine to go, where the Masters tourney is won and lost. Bubba Watson and Jordan Spieth were locked in the endgame of their battle for the green jacket and the glory of the victory that comes with a win in “the tradition unlike any other.”
How is it possible that three Jewish Democrats get so wound up for a golf tournament? After all, Augusta National’s long-time leader and co-founder Clifford Roberts (1894-1977) once said, “As long as I’m alive, golfers (at the Masters) will be white, and caddies will be black.” Augusta National did not admit their first black member until 1990. This is also the club that refused solo membership to women until 2012 when they admitted presidential advisor Condoleeza Rice and financier Darla Moore. The Augusta National was also free from a Jewish influence for many years. In his autobiography, Jewish-Canadian real estate tycoon Leo Kolber laments that one of his great regrets was to turn down membership in the club during the 1980s when he believed he would have been the first Jewish member.
Not the best street cred, down there in the Deep South, when it comes to social justice.
So why do we gather? Simple, it’s the golf. Much as baseball’s Opening Day is the day to gather for the hardball fan, we’ve been doing this together for 20 years.
It’s rebirth. It’s what we do. It is spring time in Augusta.
For lo; the winter is past, the rain is over and gone, the flowers appear on the earth, the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.
The Masters, as an invitational, sets a field limit. Only 90 of the world’s most highly qualified professional players are asked in. The Masters also honors six of the best truly amateur players in the world with special invitations. It venerates the past champions with lifetime membership status. Nicklaus, the Golden Bear; Gary Player, the Black Knight; and Arnold Palmer, the King; strike the first shots of the tournament. Augusta names bridges and trees after past greats. It salutes the current champion with a special dinner during tourney week to which all past champions make it a point to attend. The list of awards on offer is staggering.
The club attends to its customers; the paying public, or ‘patrons’ in proper Masters parlance. The club enforces leisure. There is a strict “No Running on the Grounds” policy. It offers reasonably priced food and drink. Daily tickets, available through a lottery, are $75 for the full day’s entertainment.
Augusta National is innovative. They invented the red numbers (for below par) on scoreboards. The white coveralls for caddies, emblazoned with the player’s name, make for easy ID, and were an Augusta innovation. When winters are harsh, they paint the greens green for TV. When the shrubbery fails to bloom on the Augusta National’s schedule, they bring in legions of potted plants, again, to enhance the experience.
So there we sit, my father, my son, and I, soaking it in. Dad was a great player in his day. Mort gets so excited as we watch the Master’s that his sore hip, and his sore calf, and his arthritis evaporate and he wants to play right now. Aaron, he of the 320 yard drives, looks at the Augusta course and thinks, “You know, I bet I could carry my drive around that corner.”
Me, the guy who shoots an 84 from the whites no matter how much or little I practice? I long for the chance to get the three of us back out on the course together just one more time.
We lost the fourth member of our foursome in December of 2012. My brother Mikey, who played to scratch from the blues in the game of life, went down to oral cancer back then. I’ve dodged the cancer bullet once, and the pulmonary embolism bullet twice. Mort? Bypass surgery, kidney failure, heart attack.
We sit on the couch. We watch some golf. We remember that golf isn’t always about golf. We think about Mikey. We watch the leaves unfurl on the maple trees in the backyard. We jump up and cheer for Jordan Spieth, a twenty year old, who plays with the mind of 38 year old veteran and the eye-hand skills of an NBA superstar. We cheer for Bubba Watson as he thinks and thunders his way around the back nine of Augusta National on his way to his second Master’s championship.
We watch as Bubba’s two year old boy toddles out onto the 18th green to greet his daddy. We watch as Bubba hoists his boy in his arms, kisses him on the cheek, hugs him, and then takes a victory lap around the 18th green.
Fifty-three years ago, my dad used to hoist me just like that. Nineteen years ago, I did the same with Aaron.
We’ve made it once more.
It’s golf. It’s rebirth. It’s what we do. It is spring time in Augusta.