AUGUSTA, Ga. — Maybe it is the Masters tournament’s place as an annual rite of spring or its rich history, revisited this week for an 85th time. Perhaps it is because the tournament is the only major golf championship contested on the same golf course every year, which breeds a comforting familiarity. But the Masters stands out among sporting events — for its colorful grounds, for its gentle mix of old and new champions, and for the generations of attending families renewing traditions on the site. It is the rare athletic arena in the spotlight for only four days a year, but then maybe that is its ultimate charm.
The Augusta National golf course was created on a former nursery, which contributes to its parkland aura, especially as the property was cultivated over several decades. Watching on television, it is hard to grasp how much the topography affects the competition and the viewing pleasure of attending fans as the hilly terrain naturally creates amphitheater-like viewing areas. It also heightens the challenge for the golfers, who traverse a compound full of intrinsic challenges, including a drop of 175 feet from the highest point on the property (the famed old-style clubhouse) to the lowest point (the devilish, small par-3 12th green).
Framing the golf holes are 100-foot loblolly pine trees, flowering dogwoods and hundreds of flourishing azalea bushes. Add the brilliant white sand of Augusta National Golf Club’s bunkers and its manicured green fairways, and the setting has become one of the most distinctive and recognizable venues in American sports. — Bill Pennington