By Nathan Bierma
Content & Context
IRONY BEAT: MASTERS DIARY
For all the wrath Martha Burk wished to commission upon the Masters tournament, even she couldn't have imagined the deluge that doomed the tournament on Thursday. The heavens had been pouring down all week, as though with disapproval, forbidding practice rounds and fouling the pristine green landscapes with sludge. Thursday morning, Masters officials announced first round play was cancelled for the day—the first time since 1939 that rain had washed out the opening round.
"Mother Nature must want a woman member, too." wrote USA Today, which wondered if "nothing will be simple this April at Augusta."
Ever since Martha Burk read in the paper last summer that Augusta National Golf Club doesn't allow female members and wrote a letter to the club's dramatically defiant chairman, Hootie Johnson, nothing has been simple at Augusta. Not even a full-page ad in the New York Times by Smith & Wollensky steakhouse, inviting Burk and Johnson to a peacemaking evening of "steak, chops, lobster, and all the fine win you can drink," could settle the issue. So the stormy weather seemed to fit.
"Has it been a weird week?" asked player Rocco Mediate. "It's been a weird 10 months."
After a first day of play on Friday that was both weird and unfinished, the leader's name was "weird" unfinished, as Mike Weir sought to become the first minority of another sort to win the Masters; no Canadian or left-handed player had ever won the championship. He topped the leaderboard as the tournament broadcast began.
Saturday, 3:20 p.m. ET: CBS, which for years has famously been under fusty Augusta's orders to call spectators "patrons" rather than "fans," would sooner broadcast three straight hours of the trees lining the course than say anything about the current controversy during its telecast. So it's strange to see a pre-tournament special canonizing "Bobby, Tiger and Jack" (Jones, Woods, and Nicklaus) that calls Tiger "a pied piper for the disenfranchised: kids and minorities."
If the "minority" is women, though, Woods seems to want no part of it. "I think there should be women members," he said a few months ago, "but it's not up to me." This washing-of-hands of the controversy seems to make his previously desired status as a barrier-breaking pioneer seem disingenuous. As I wrote here, you can't rise to the position Woods holds in the world of golf and then pretend that uncomfortable issues are out of your control. Woods could have a huge impact if he threatened to lead a boycott of the tournament. He doesn't have to, but that's exactly why it would be noble—as well as consistent—of him to do it. Besides, had Woods come on the scene before 1990, when Augusta invited its first black member, would he have shrugged that off too?
3:35: After an opening segment of highlights from the first two rounds, CBS officially opens its telecast with a shot of the emerald fairway sprinkled with azaleas. A tinkling piano plays the soothing CBS Masters tune, and a reverent Jim Nantz talks of the "glorious blue sky dominating over Augusta," which has "returned to its most vibrant spring-like conditions." As always, but perhaps never so poignantly as this year, CBS' tone sets up the golf tournament as a holy sanctuary, an idyllic escape from the worries of everyday life.
3:50: After Nantz sets the stage in front of the cozy fireplace of Butler Cabin—uttering the newly ironic tagline, "a tradition unlike any other"—CBS runs a taped welcome from Augusta vice chairman Joe Ford, who reports being pleased to bring us this broadcast for the first time in high definition digital broadcasting—and, oh yeah, "free of commercial interruption." This is because the Burk brouhaha prompted Augusta to pre-emptively cancel its TV sponsorships to save them the grief. How "pleased" Ford actually is that Augusta will lose their money is left for the viewer to speculate, but Ford does get in a dig at Burk: "This year more than ever, we are pleased to make this broadcast available" on armed forces television. Earlier, in what many columnists said was Burk's first major public relations blunder, she had said that proceeding with the tournament would be an insult to the female soldiers serving in Iraq.
4:09: There is one commercial after all—a public service spot for First Tee, which teaches kids to play golf and, evidently, to recite its rules as earnestly as Sunday schoolers—and even that can't help but remind viewers of the current Masters mess. Golf, the ad insists, can "teach kids important values that will have an impact on their communities and the rest of their lives." It teaches you to "learn from your mistakes." When the ad cuts to one young golfing girl, it is left unsaid that the "rest of her life" may not soon involve a membership at the finest venue in the game she is learning to love—not until Johnson "learns from his mistakes"—and thus the game's promotion of "good values" is a tad ambiguous.