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The Masters: Aura of Augusta rests on unflinching trappings of tradition

By Peter Hutcheon

In the cold of an Augusta morning, barely half an hour after a huge orange ball of a sun arose in the eastern sky, two old men shuffled out onto an immaculate green swathe.

Both were wielding curious sticks with bulbous heads on one end. Old men about to tend their garden patch? Old men chewing the cud together about, well, life and the old days?

Images can be misleading. Arnold Palmer, now 81, and his ‘younger’ sidekick Jack Nicklaus, all of 71, made the ceremonial start to this 75th Masters tournament at Augusta National yesterday morning. But not in the way you might think of old men whose days are done.

Palmer picked up a driver and sent his ball a decent 220 or so yards right up the middle of the fairway. Then came the ‘younger’ one. Nicklaus, still following that rigid routine of address, eye surveying the target and finding a little spot in line to ensure accuracy, blasted his ball straight down the middle of the fairway and halfway up the hill on Augusta’s first hole. It must have gone 270 yards.

Some old man, some sidekick.

But why would they drag old men out of their beds at an indecent hour on a crisp Augusta spring morning?

Ah, that is easy to answer. Tradition. It is the soil that underpins Augusta National and all it stands for.

As this little ceremony was being enacted, a human army was busily on the march. Ant-like in their numbers, they scurried hither and thither, almost every one in the direction of the course entrances.

But the ant-world here has to accept myriad rules to scurry in this particular field.

‘Running’ says a neon sign outside one gate, ‘is considered unacceptable behaviour’.

‘Tickets’, says another, ‘must be ready for inspection in your hands’.

And so on, and so on...

Why are they such sticklers for all this stuff in these parts? Tradition. It’s always been done that way down here in America’s conservative deep south and always will be. ‘Don’t like it fella? Yer don’t have to be here’.

But anything between 100,000 and 200,000 people — we can’t be certain because the wise men who run this extraordinary annual piece of sporting theatre resolutely refuse to divulge numbers — cheerfully grab themselves a piece of the tradition each year. They range from the youngest to the oldest.

The top US amateur Peter Uihlein stayed Monday night, as is the tradition, in the Crow’s Nest, a lofty eerie in one of the many beautiful white, weather-boarded homes that dot the course. Poor fellow, he chose the wrong night to climb up to history. A massive storm ripped through the southern states, Augusta National included, and Uihlein got virtually no sleep in his exposed location.

The next morning, he decided that staying at a house nearby with his girlfriend and family might be a cuter deal. Alas for tradition.

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