By Robert Bicknell

April 2008

Rule # 1 -- The Masters is unique...

There is something about the month of April that gets every red-blooded golf fanaticís heart pumping faster. It could be the idea that spring is around the corner, it could be the milder weather.

Or it could be the thought of yet another Masterís tournament at Augusta National launches another quest for a Grand Slam by Tiger Woods.

Personally, I have always held the Masters as my favourite major, the Open and the US Open cannot be discounted lightly either.

The Open was the first, the most prestigious and, as some believe, the truest and most honest test of the game of golf as it was meant to be played. The old saying of "play the course as it is and let Mother Nature provide the drama" certainly applies here. If itís not wet and windy, itís not The Open.

The US Open, which is my national Open, also has its lineage and history. Francis Ouimetís upset win at The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts, virtually sparked the American golf revolution. A US Open course is also considered the most difficult tournament course set up on the planet, with some people labelling as borderline sadism.

The PGA Championship remains the last gasp for a Major victory of the year for the players and while it used to actually allow the PGA club professionals to qualify and participate, those slots seem to become fewer each year, mostly due to the whining of the Tour pros who think nothing of biting the hand that feeds them.

Perhaps they donít care to remember that without club pros, there wouldnít be Tour pros.

So, in reality, it is not really the "PGA Championship" anymore, but rather the PGA "Tour" Championship, and that means the Tournament Players Championship remains a wanna-be Major.

But the Masters remains forever special.

First of all, itís an "invitational," meaning that the Lords of Augusta National can invite whomever they damn well please. If you donít like it, you are welcome not to participate. Simple concept.

Rule # 1, never argue with these guys. You cannot win and nobody will support you, ever. In fact, most would vilify you in hopes of making the Lords happy and getting an invite to the event themselves.

Secondly, it is always held at the same course. While other Majors rotate amongst different venues, the Masters remains solely August Nationalís baby. They created it. It stays there. If you donít like it, please refer to the above mentioned Rule # 1.

Also, Augusta National controls everything including how many advertisements may be shown during the televised broadcast and even which holes may be shown. When Martha Burk threatened to have women boycott the sponsors, The Lords pre-empted her by cancelling all sponsorship that year and covering the costs themselves (yes, thatís just pocket change to these guys). Once again, see Rule # 1.

Even CBS, who televises the event, bows down to the Lords because Augusta will only sign a one-year at a time contract with them. In a nutshell, CBS can be bounced anytime the Lords want.

So naturally, when Gary McCord wise-cracked that the greens at Augusta were so slick they were "bikini-waxed" and that the bumpy terrain resembled "body bags", the Lords were not amused and communicated that fact to CBS who promptly shat themselves and bounced McCord from the broadcast forever.

Yes, feel free to silently recite "Rule #1" again, but McCord turned the tables on the Lords and became even more famous as, "the guy who got bounced from the Masters" and it even earned him a spot in the movie "Tin Cup."

While the Masters is considered truly unique, those little idiosyncrasies should come as no surprise when you consider that Augusta National Golf Club is the epitome of a "private club."

Itís one of the only clubs in the US that, if you ask to become a member, youíre automatically disqualified from being a candidate and getting booted out of there is a thousand times easier than getting in.

If you break the rules once too often, youíll receive a simple letter stating "Dear Sir, you are no longer a member of Augusta National GC" and there is no argument. Once again, see Rule #1.

Yet, itís a club that most golfers would give their right arm to join and even walking outside the ropes during the practice rounds can send chills up your spine and if you donít believe me, just ask Dean Cashion, who attended the Masters tournament last year.

As he said, its an experience that he will never forget and, having played there twice as a guest of a member, I know exactly what he means.

There is no place anywhere like Augusta National...and thatís Rule # 2.

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