AUGUSTA, Ga. — It’s thrilling for golf fans everywhere to have the Masters back in April, until COVID-19 the tournament’s ancestral home since 1935.
That was the year of Gene Sarazen’s “shot heard round the world,” the double eagle at 15 (an albatross for golf purists) to help him win in a playoff. The only things that interrupted that streak were World War II and a worldwide pandemic.
The scientists and doctors are still on edge, but there are signs our world is starting to return to normal. This Masters in April is one of those signs.
But there is another side to that promising coin. The signs that we aren’t all the way back yet. This Masters is one of those signs, too.
Golf Digest’s Tod Leonard wrote that this 2021 edition is “Masters Lite.” It is an apt description. Last year we got the stripped down, fat-free, alternate autumn version of the Masters, with no fans and not one bloomin’ blooming azalea.
This year the patrons are back. A representative minority, anyway. Not that the folks who rule the Masters ever tell us what the turnstile count is, but word on the fairway is there are going to be 12,000-15,000 in attendance each day. That’s from the normal estimate of 40,000-50,000 per day.
There is no Par-3 contest Wednesday. The gorgeous little nine-hole course arranged around two ponds is sitting idle over there on the east side of the campus without even a “College Game Day” set to adorn it. Because there are fewer fans there are no grandstands, the giant green sentinels that typically provide backdrops to Amen Corner and bracket the “Try to hit me in two, I dare you” 15th green. It was strange indeed Monday to stand in the spot where the observation stand is behind the Sarazen Bridge at 15 and be able to see the stone wall from its back side.
There are good points to the thinner galleries, I must admit. I didn’t know there was a huge mound behind the 12th tee box, or behind the eighth green. Both are usually covered up by the observation stands. Less traffic, on the roads leading to the course and to get into the massive gift shop by the main entrance off the first fairway aren’t in themselves disappointing.
And as for the azaleas, the famous flowers at first peek seem to be in thinner numbers as well. On a floral scale of 1 to 10 — with 1 being my swampy back yard and 10 being the Tournament of Roses parade — I’d give them a 7. The flowers always seem to build to full bloom as Masters week goes on (and no, I don’t believe they ice the plants) so hopefully we’re heading toward a 9.
If we should have learned anything during this past pandemic year that still wants to hold us in its grip it is to be grateful for the things we have long taken for granted. Good health. Our loved ones. The sporting events so many of us hold so dear.
We’ll take the lite version of something like the Masters for now. As we’ve painfully learned, it’s much better than nothing at all.
TUESDAY’S MASTERS BROADCAST, ONLINE SCHEDULE
8 a.m. — Masters On The Range: CBS Sports Network, Masters.com