Augusta still a master of self worship

The Herald, by Nick Rodger

Can you smell the excitement of the Masters in the air? No? Well, you should be able to because it’s being wafted in by great big industrial-sized excitement generating turbines.

In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Augusta National top brass had actually manufactured these birling, twirling, whirling contraptions of my imagination given that they are, well, masters in the arts of self-aggrandising.

Last week’s Augusta National Women’s Amateur Championship, for instance, was championed as the greatest thing to happen to the fairer sex since the invention of Eve herself as some of the world’s best campaigners from the unpaid game got to play one round over this hitherto bastion of all-male exclusivity.

Nowhere in the world of golf does sugary-coatings quite like Augusta. Indeed, by the time we reach the ceremonial tee-off on Thursday, the levels of syrupy schmaltz and saccharine reverence will be so high, images of the Masters will come with their own red-label warning from the Food Standards Agency about excessive consumption of sweet things.

There is no doubt that last weekend’s historic occasion for the good ladies was a milestone in a sport that for too long has weighed itself down with a self-imposed millstone of gender inequality.

But, my goodness, they fairly laid it on thick as all and sundry were left cooing like turtle doves on a first date.

With levels of compliance you’d tend to get with suckling piglets around a sow’s teat, the Augusta high command could call on obsequious observations and PR choreographed platitudes from some of the game’s leading male players as well as a fawning media to drive home just what a ground-breaking moment this was.

If certain outlets weren’t down on bended knee at the magnificence of it all then they were left crawling around on all fours in gasping worship.

“We have been blessed with resources,” said the Augusta chairman Fred Ridley as he gazed out at this all-embracing scene on Saturday. “I think we have an obligation to utilise them, not only to improve this place and therefore what we do for the Masters tournament but to give back to all segments of the game.”

The history of prejudicial practices at Augusta is well-documented. To his credit, Ridley was one of the main drivers of this whole idea of a women’s event.

In that respect he should be commended for his efforts.

On the other hand, do we necessarily need to hang up the bunting on the basis that a field of 30 young women in 2019 have been allowed to play a golf course? We may as well laud grown adults for being able to use a knife and fork.

It took this private club, which has a very public profile, until 2012 to admit their first two female members, after all. Suddenly all these declarations of enlightenment and statements that Augusta National is now some great advocate of the women’s cause and are intrepid plotters of a bold new path remain rather disingenuous.

The amateur ideal runs through Augusta’s heritage. Its founder, the great Bobby Jones, was close friends with celebrated female contemporaries of the day like Joyce Wethered and Marion Hollins.

One can only wonder what those decorated women of the Royal & Ancient pursuit would have thought of Saturday’s showpiece. But wonder no more because the staggering hyperbole generated at the weekend just about covered those bases too and, frankly, it all became rather tiresome.

The young girls playing seemed awe-struck by the opportunity. And why wouldn’t they be? Phrases like “dream come true” and “inspiring a new generation” were heard with genuine meaning from this small band of trailblazers.

But their own words were almost drowned out by the gushing torrents of forced veneration that tumbled forth from those with a vested interest who were desperate to make the whole thing work.

By the time Jennifer Kupcho, who carded a fine five-under 67 on the final day to win, was presented with the trophy, the trumpeting was as loud as 1000 brass bands.

That the Augusta Women’s Amateur Championship went up against the first women’s major of the year, the ANA Inspiration, left two significant events fighting for the same breathing space while some of the leading amateurs had to choose between one or the other.

It’s hardly surprising that the Augusta heid bummers would want to maximise the impact of their own women’s championship by holding it the week before the Masters itself.

One will have to shift. And given the history of Augusta, you can’t imagine them moving quickly…