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Masters 2013, Here We Come

August 23, 2012 Leave a comment

Augusta’s 12th hole

Augusta National Golf Club is in the news this week because of its announcement Monday that it has admitted its first female members. (I just wrote about the announcement, expressing my disgust regarding one of the two new members.) But that’s not the only news.

The club runs The Masters, one of men’s golf’s four major tournaments, and for many players and observers, the best. I have had the good fortune of attending the three other majors: The Open Championship (familiarly known in the US as the British Open) at St. Andrews in 1990 and Troon in 2004, the US Open at Bethpage on Long Island in 2002, and the PGA Championship here at nearby Sahalee in 1998. But I have never gone to the Masters.

There’s a reason. It’s just about the hardest US sports ticket to get hold of. Tickets for the other three majors are made publicly available, but the Masters is like season tickets for team sports: ticket holders can renew their subscriptions, receiving tickets for life. Since the club isn’t interested in making a ton of money through ticket sales, a modest number of tickets is sold compared to other golf tournaments, and ticket prices remain low. Thus, ticket turnover is low too.

Ticket holders are barred by Augusta’s rules from re-selling their tickets, but of course many do, and the resulting prices are high. Once you get on the course, food prices are low. Indeed, the food is flat out cheap. Not cheap just by the standards of a sporting event, but cheap like turning the clock back a few decades.

There used to be a waiting list for available tickets, but the club abandoned that recently. Intead, it makes a small number of tickets available by lottery. You have to set up an account, log in, give them some information, and apply separately for tickets on tournament days (Thursday through Sunday) and on practice days (Monday through Wednesday). There’s a limit, 2 tickets per day on tournament days, 4 per day on practice days. I applied for both a year ago for this year’s Masters and struck out. I applied again a few months ago for next year’s tournament, learning a month ago that I would not be getting tournament tickets.

Now for the big news: Last night, I got an email informing me that I had won the practice round lottery. I was asked to log in for details. On doing so, I learned that I’ve won 4 tickets for Tuesday, the second practice day. Only Tuesday. I need to pay by September 15 or release them.

Not exactly what I was hoping for. Imagine flying all the way to Georgia, finding a hotel, and staying just for one day. It hardly seems worth the trouble.

Then again, the Masters! I can go! I can see the 12th hole at last. And the 13th. And the 14th. All of them! The holes any golf fan has memorized from years of watching the coverage on TV. (I failed to make this point — the other three majors rotate among courses. The Masters is always in one place. Players and fans come to know the course intimately.)

What to do? I have no idea. My cousin John has told me for years that however hard it is to get tournament tickets, or however expensive, obtaining practice round tickets is a breeze. I could pay for the Tuesday tickets and count on finding Wednesday tickets, so we could attend for two days, not just one. Or wait for the year that we win the tournament ticket lottery. Or, after a few more years of failure, just pay the big bucks.

Meanwhile, here’s an article by WSJ sportswriter Jason Gay that I just found, written on the eve of last April’s Masters.

The Masters may be one of the hardest tickets in sports – daily tournament tickets are awarded by lottery, and though the price is a relatively modest $75, the reselling market can be many multiples of that (on Stubhub.com, there were Sunday tickets available for $745 each; Thursday’s were going for $590).

But once you’re inside the grounds, Augusta is weirdly inexpensive. The general rule of the modern sporting event is the “quintuple gouge” – gouge you for a seat, gouge you to park, gouge you to eat, gouge you to drink, and gouge you once more if you’re daffy and flush enough to want a souvenir. But the Masters is charmingly anti-gouge. Official parking is free, though if you want to be a cowboy and park at a private lot, there are plenty for $10. Food is astonishingly cheap – not just cheap in the sporting event context, but just cheap, cheap. The famous Pimento cheese sandwich is a buck and a half; two of them will have you napping under a shade tree. An egg salad sandwich is also $1.50. The Masters club sandwich is $2.50. For big spenders, you can go wild with a grilled chicken wrap at $3.00.

And beer? This will make you cry: $3 for domestic, $3.75 for imports.

At those prices you should have a few clams left over for a stop at the souvenir stand, where the prices are not discount den, but hardly grim. Official cotton Masters hats are $24, visors are $15; a commemorative glass is $7; you can buy a Masters carry-on bag for $99, but it comes with free shipping. Probably the most useful and travel-friendly gift is the official ball marker, which goes for $8. Last year’s Masters winner Charl Schwartzel raked in $1.44 million for his performance – good enough to purchase 180,000 ball markers, or 960,000 Pimento sandwiches.

If only today’s well-moneyed athletes played for Pimento sandwiches. Sports would be a different, cheesy place.

Some day. I don’t think I even like pimento cheese sandwiches, but I look forward to buying one.

Categories: Golf

The Good Life, War Criminal Division

August 23, 2012 Leave a comment

2012 Masters winner Bubba Watson receiving his green jacket from 2011 winner Charl Schwartzel

[AP]

I should have seen this one coming. What? I’ll get to it. Some background first.

Augusta National Golf Club is home to the most famous golf course in the country and host of The Masters, one of the four major men’s golf championships. It’s not your typical local golf club, with membership drawn primarily from the region around Augusta, Georgia. Rather, as the name suggests, it is a national club, with a membership including many CEOs and political leaders.

Membership is by invitation only. Asking to join is a good way to ensure that you won’t be invited, at least not for a while. Supposedly this happened to Bill Gates. That’s the story that got told a few years back anyway.

The lack of African-American members was a source of controversy a couple of decades ago, in the context of the PGA Tour having a policy of not holding tournaments at clubs without black members. The club soon admitted some. More recently, the absence of women among the membership had become national news, thanks especially to the attention Martha Burk, former chair of the National Council of Women’s Organizations, drew to this issue in 2002. She called for a boycott by the Masters tournament advertisers, to which the club’s long-time chair Hootie Johnson responded by preempting her, announcing that there would be no TV ads (and reducing whatever fee CBS pays for coverage of the tournament). The Masters exercises tight control over the broadcast as it is, with strictly limited advertising and no CBS promos of upcoming shows. It is far and away the best golf broadcast of the year.

This year, the spotlight fell once again on the absence of women among club members, for an entirely different reason. As Jason Gay explained in the WSJ:

Augusta National is again confronted with a question that gets elevated as a “cultural moment” but really just sounds absurd in 2012: Why aren’t there any women members?

The subject has been pushed to the forefront by the appointment of Virginia M. Rometty as the CEO of IBM. IBM is a prominent Masters sponsor, and Augusta National has a history of inviting the company’s top executive to join its club. Ms. Rometty is a golfer. She spent late Sunday afternoon at Augusta sitting in a second-row chair behind the 18th green. Her jacket was pink, not green [green being the color of jackets that members receive].

Hootie Johnson’s successor as club chair, Billy Payne — whom you may remember running the Atlanta Olympics in 1996; he did a good job, maybe he should run for president — insisted at the time that membership is a private issue, and they would invite women when they were ready.

As Gay points out, the club sounded absurd, if not worse. The betting was that they wouldn’t be caught in the same position come April 2013 and the next Masters tournament.

No surprise, then, that three days ago Augusta National finally announced two new female members. One is Darla Moore. On reading about her (here and here), I realized that she was always the “obvious” choice for first female member of Augusta National. She’s a long-time friend of Hootie, fellow graduate of the University of South Carolina, and fellow major USC donor (for whom the business school is named).

Which brings me, at last, to the point of this post — the conventional, predictable, but sickening choice of the other inaugural female member: Condi Rice. Ah, the rewards of directing a regime of torture.

Let’s see. This will do, from an article in 2009:

Condoleezza Rice approved ‘torture’ techniques:

Condoleezza Rice, President George W. Bush’s Secretary of State, personally approved a CIA request to use “waterboarding” and other harsh interrogation techniques.

She verbally agreed to allow the methods to be used on Abu Zubaydah, an al-Qaeda suspect, in July 2002, a Senate report has revealed.

Miss Rice’s role was outlined in a narrative released by the Senate Intelligence Committee as the controversy over alleged torture by the CIA continued to rage.

The information indicates that the programme was approved at the highest levels of the Bush administration.

The new timeline suggests Miss Rice played a more significant role than she acknowledged in written testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee submitted in the autumn.

No matter. She’s now a member of the most exclusive golf club in the country.

And let’s not forget Obama telling us nine days before his inauguration that “we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards.” Okay then. I’m good. Condi, enjoy.

Categories: Golf, Politics, Torture

Line of the Week

August 23, 2012 1 comment

[Jeff Weeks]

It’s tough to compete with Missouri representative Todd Akin, who in the last week has given us what may be the line of the year. But let’s put politics aside — along with its concomitant lies, ignorance, and stupidity — and turn instead to mathematics. Bill Thurston, one of the great mathematicians of our time, died on Tuesday, way too young, at 65.

The NYT obituary does a passable job of conveying some sense of his importance, though it borders on the bizarre to learn that “Thurston was among a very rarefied group in his field that thinks deep theoretical thoughts with no particular practical application, a luxury he reveled in.” Just about everyone I spend my days with thinks theoretical thoughts with no particular practical application. I never thought we’re part of a rarefied group. But maybe the point is that our thoughts aren’t deep. In my case, I won’t argue.

The line of the week? It’s a remark by Thurston’s son Dylan:

Dylan Thurston, also a mathematician, said that despite working in a realm of rather cold abstractions, his father was personally very warm.

I picture Dylan saying this with a wink. We mathematicians don’t live in a realm of cold abstraction. Our abstractions are warm and fuzzy, good company in all circumstances. How warm we are is another matter.

——-

For more on Thurston’s work, see the short note by Evelyn Lamb at Scientific American.

Categories: Life, Math, Obituary