It’s a moment that literally takes one’s breath away – the opening of the gates for the first round of the Masters Tournament.
The excitement is palpable as the crisp morning air and radiant sunlight provide the backdrop for what is truly a bucket list experience. Impeccable conditions, knowledgeable fans (uh, patrons), clockwork-like operations and tremendous competition combine to make the Masters one of the top sporting events on the calendar.
The Masters is without a doubt the best commercial the game of golf has to offer. Its early April positioning, vast international exposure and history of exciting finishes provides a pulpit unlike any other event or venue.
So, why do I want more from Augusta National?
To be fair, the club and the Masters have done much for golf and society beyond offering a great competition. Millions of dollars have been raised for charity; considerable resources have been invested to offer opportunities for youth to play the game; and innovation in agronomic practices has been a priority.
But the fact remains, golf needs help in addressing issues that continue to dog its image. And that is where Augusta National can play a big role. Despite all of the efforts the industry has made to help communicate golf’s compatibility with the environment, the public still views golf as a black mark on nature.
Unfortunately for Augusta National, it has become somewhat of a target of the naysayers – and an easy one at that. The club is high profile, it attracts media attention, and the Masters provides a visible platform. And, for the most part, the club has not addressed concerns with any great vigor. My concern is that golf will continue to be held back until those with the opportunity to make a difference take it upon themselves to do so. I abide by the parable that from whom much is given, much is expected.
This should not be taken as an attack on Augusta National. My request is for its leaders to give critical thought to how it can help send a positive message with such force that the game will be seen in a more positive light. Those in the golf course management industry know perhaps better than anyone else that Augusta National has been an innovator when it comes turf management. Not every facility has the resources of the club, but they likely have benefited from its turf management expertise.
So why not tell the good story? Tell the world about the measures taken to ensure the game is compatible with the environment. Debunk the perception that Augusta National and other golf courses are toxic waste dumps. Not only would this go a long way toward improving how golf is perceived, it would have a halo effect in chipping away at the label of the game’s elitist nature. Utilizing its large pulpit and its media partners, Augusta National could give golf a shot in the arm.
On the subject of perception and Augusta National, this time of year also re-energizes the debate about the existence of the Augusta Syndrome. If you are a superintendent who believes the conditions at the Masters have a negative impact on you and your staff, then it’s time to take matters into your own hands.
Use your communications vehicles to educate golfers about the resources Augusta and other high-profile facilities have compared to yours. Be as detailed as possible, and use tangible examples in noting the time and manpower available to these facilities to blow pine needles, rake each bunker by hand, double-cut and roll greens in the morning and evening every day, etc. The strategy shouldn’t be to position your message as a complaint, but rather an opportunity to share the “why” and “how.”
I can’t wait for the Masters. It offers the platform for many in the game to tell a good story and what superintendents do to make it the wonderful game that it is.