Just when you thought our yearly foray into the international sports headlines could not get any better, those “stodgy old stick-in-the muds” at Augusta National have gone and made it bigger, better and dare I say even more special than we once considered could be possible.
The advent of the National’s involvement in the Drive, Chip and Putt finals for children and teens from all over the country was a resounding success, not just in practical terms, but clearly in a much grander scale. The interest and goodwill generated by the move, which will continue very likely forever, cannot be reasonably overstated or overestimated.
If you had told me a few years ago that we would be seeing a televised competition that matters, at any level, from Augusta National the Sunday before tournament week, I would have suggested you had lost your mind. If you went on to predict that children would be the featured competitors, and that the 18th green of the big course would be part of their stage, I would have driven you to the asylum.
Former club Chairmen Bobby Jones, Clifford Roberts, Hord Hardin and Jack Stephens are all enjoying their final reward, and we are grateful for the wonderful facility and golfing tradition they left behind, but the men and women that have replaced them are taking the organization and all who love it into rarified air that few dreamed was going to be realized in our lifetimes.
As long as it does not interfere with the mission of honoring the game of golf, and keeping the National as the very special and exclusive club we know it to be, I dare say nothing should be considered impossible or off limits when it comes to future plans.
Logistically, another full-scale tournament at the National, whether it be an LPGA Masters or a Champions Tour (seniors) Masters, would be difficult, just based on getting access to the course without costing the generous membership any more precious playing time. The club is already closed for play from June through early October. Such an event would likely have to come either at the end or the beginning of the season, likely at the end. It is not something that is under active consideration (at least that they will comment on), but such a competition was once a completely forbidden topic. Not so these days. Remember that it was current chairman Billy Payne, before he was a member, who as the Chief Atlanta Olympics officer championed the cause of Olympic golf being staged at the course. That was way back in 1996.
While another tournament may seem an impossible dream, the idea that we may see the club build a year-round public facility is something that is being actively discussed. A museum of some kind? An interactive golf activity center? Nothing is too far fetched to be considered, and growth and promotion of the game of golf is the primary goal. The current club leadership understands they are in a singularly unique position to facilitate such projects, and that the affiliation and sponsorship they can offer is as close to a guarantee of success as one can expect. We have seen big changes in the last 10 years, and the biggest may be just around the corner.
The 78th Masters Golf Tournament is indeed in the books, and as neighbors and spectators we all should take a good hard look at how well the city and the Augusta National worked together to ensure all went smoothly. Bravo!
Obviously, what goes on (and has gone on) behind the gates of the vaunted institution is beyond simple municipal cooperation; it entails detailed planning and consultation. It is encouraging to see firsthand what city leaders are capable of doing when they put their best and brightest on the front lines and temporarily halt the foolish shenanigans that usually inspire headlines. In other words, no elected officials are involved.
The work Augusta’s traffic engineering department did, in conjunction with the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office, was nothing short of miraculous. Things have gone well in recent years, but last week’s situation may have been handled as close to 100 percent perfect as is humanly possible under such conditions.
But not only did things go smoothly concerning the obstacles and new traffic patterns, we saw firsthand that traffic surrounding the National and the daily egress/ingress issues were substantially better than in recent years.
I was asked many times last week if the National had decreased ticket sales, a question inspired by the lack of serious traffic tie ups. The answer would be a resounding “NAY NAY,” as many area bars, restaurants and hotels would likely attest.
What happened last week was a rare example of a number of governmental agencies working together in perfect harmony. The aforementioned traffic engineering department, traffic enforcement officers, the Georgia DOT and others showed what can be done when we allow trained and experienced professionals to do their jobs without the commentary, meddling and interference that so often complicates even the most simple civic functions.