Watching the Masters... With a Healthy Dose of Reality

Watching the Masters... on television and online... is not quite the same for me this year.

Augusta National still looks sublime, as it no doubt always will, but this year its sublimity is contained, in a certain sense, by my not-too-distant memories of actually being there.

It's not that the velvety green of the fairways is any less vivid than it was... the azaleas are every bit as bright and the Masters song just as evocative... but for me, there's a difference.

After spending four sultry days there in 2011, strolling narrow paths through the towering loblolly pines, stopping regularly for icy pink lemonades and spending time before and after the tournament in the town of Augusta and the rural countryside that surrounds it, The Masters is real to me now in a way that, makes it more tangible... and consequently, less magical.

If you've attended the tournament you probably know what I mean, or you may have experienced a similar sensation after visiting Paris or Hawaii... or even Disney World... for the first time.  When you grow up hearing, reading and catching carefully edited glimpses of a place purported to be magical, finally visiting that place... in the flesh... inevitably and forever changes the way you think of it.

Up till now my impressions of The Masters, and the classic MacKenzie course it's played on, were based entirely on the florid distillation of stories and imagery that came out of Augusta each year.  It existed in my mind as a completely insular place, a kind of Brigadoon that appeared out of the mist, annually, for one week in early April, then disappeared until the following Spring... when we'd once again be able to briefly experience that cloistered corner of the world with it's well preserved traditions and old-fashioned sensibilities.

The thing is,  I now realize that Augusta National during The Masters does feel magical from the inside.  Like the fictional highland hamlet of Brigadoon it's quaint and beautiful, and the Scottish villagers patrons really do seem to be harboring some sort of mysterious secret.  

Downtown Augusta
However, upon leaving the grounds each day... in the inevitable cloud of bliss a day at the Masters brings with it... a one encounters something a bit unsettling: reality.  It's right outside the gates and it's just the normal reality of life in an American city, and Augusta apart from the Masters is a contemporary Southern river city.  As in many cities though out the US, the big box retailers and ubiquitous chain restaurants make it a tough go for the small independent retailers. In downtown, one comes upon numerous empty store fronts, and some of the charming old wood houses are in woeful disrepair.  Meanwhile gentrification has resulted in leafy suburbs lined with stately homes and a revitalized Riverfront... and the hospitality and charm of the Augustans is truly heartwarming. 

So that's where the reality intersects with the fantasy, and if you're like me, once you've experienced it you'll find your Master's viewing experience has changed, just a bit... which in the end is probably a good thing.