The changing of the seasons is, technically speaking, a precise instant in time which can be measured to the second. But in the world as we experience it, the signs that spring is here depend on the criteria we have each developed from our own life experience.
For some, the first sighting of a robin denotes a new season. For others, the first cutting of the grass is the trigger point. For the mass media, it depends on whether a celebrity groundhog sees its shadow as it first emerges (or is rather reluctantly extracted) from its winter shelter. However, for me and many others who play golf, spring arrives each year during Masters week, the first major event of the year in the world of men’s professional golf.
There is no one defining moment that spring arrives at the Masters. One only knows that it is still winter when the week begins and it is spring by the time the winner is wearing the famous green jacket.
The new season arrives gradually with each powerful image that television captures as the drama builds throughout the week. The visual crescendo starts out with simple pictures of grass – greener grass than we Canadians have seen for six months. It then moves to close-ups of many different flowers; the Masters occurs in Augusta, Georgia at the peak of bloom.
Then come the jealousy-evoking shots of eager ‘patrons’ (spectators are never to be referred to as ‘fans’, according to the omnipotent committee that runs the event). These fortunate folk have won a veritable lifetime lottery for the right to walk the hallowed turf of Augusta National.
On TV, the Golf Channel gives us in-depth coverage of the Monday and Tuesday practice rounds. We actually get to see some golf shots! They don’t count for a thing, but who cares? The commentators talk endlessly about minutiae like who is carrying an extra hybrid club or who is grasping their putter differently than they did the week before.
Then comes Wednesday and things notch up a bit for the par three tournament. That unique tradition dates back to 1960 and reminds us that golf can be fun! It is less of a tournament and more a social event for people of all ages. The players often have their children carry their clubs – an easy task as they only need a putter and a few short irons to play the course. Some of the golfing dads even let their kids hit a few shots in front of the golf world. Speaking of people of all ages, Sam Snead won this event in 1991 with a three under par 24 at the age of 78.
After three days of buildup, it is Thursday morning and the actual tournament begins. But there is one tradition that must take place first. That is the honourary start at the first tee. It is arguably the greatest privilege in the sport to be asked to hit one tee shot, receive some loud applause regardless of the quality of the shot and then call it a day. Back in the early 1980’s, it was Byron Nelson and Gene Sarazen who did the honours. Mr. Sarazen’s final appearance was in 1997 at 97 years of age. At present it is Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player who continue the tradition.
Then comes the tournament proper. We enjoy a four day window on a surreal, immaculately groomed stage with a backdrop of the most vibrant colours nature has to offer. While one’s immediate object of interest is the tournament, the subconscious mind is always alert to the beauty and warmth of the natural surroundings. It is truly the real beginning of spring!