I was standing among the television trucks in the main parking lot at Augusta National Golf Club, just across the path from one of the entrances to the grounds. Beside this service entrance was a tent that a few Richmond County sheriffs deputies used as their base for the week. A deputy arrived, holding the leash of a handsome German Shepherd. As police officer and police dog walked by, I noticed a familiar, credit card-sized object pinned to the dogs collar.
Discrediting the evidence of my eyes, I strode over to the deputies and asked if I could admire their canine colleague.
Sure enough: The Shepherd wore a Masters badge with a violet stripe along the bottom, for tournament support staff. Such badges show the name and photograph of the bearer, and so did this one. This badge belonged to Schnapps, and his fuzzy headshot adorned the upper right-hand corner.
Schnapps, who Im told was polite because his handler had not identified me as a perpetrator, let me examine the credential. When I was done, I stared at him for a moment. I blinked. Schnapps blinked. He licked my hand and shifted where he sat. No one knew what to say.
Finally, a deputy piped up:
Yknow, they check his badge every time, too. Run it through the little card reader. He cant get in without it.
I then had a nice conversation with one of the deputies about what magnificent animals dogs are. But I dont remember much of our talk. I was wondering if the dog could maybe use his connections to get me Super Bowl tickets.
Knowing what I do about the Masters and the singular club that sponsors it, I found my thoughts at an interesting fork. Either 1) the folks at the National have a pleasantly quirky sense of humor, or 2) they are so serious about security that they plan to start issuing badges to other animals who may come on the grounds, such as the raccoons that surely hang out behind the media center, looking for half-eaten egg salad sandwiches.
Ive met some of the club members who work on the tournament, and Im betting on the sense-of-humor route. But what if its not? What if they put Schnapps picture on his badge to make sure some other German Shepherd didnt try to sneak in?
Sir, Im sorry, but this isnt you. See, the caramel portion of your ruff doesnt blend into the black part of your face this way.
There is an unusual balance about this place. Augusta National is one of the most beautiful, calming places on earth. Yet it is a closely regulated mini-society, in which everyone has a place and the genteel atmosphere depends on folks following the rules. The club was patiently developed by a man who consorted with presidents and had a reputation for being absolutely unbending. Yet Clifford Roberts had such a finely developed sense of humor that he would go to the trouble to make a film (for the clubs use) in which he appeared to walk across water, specifically the pond on the 16th hole. The popular film poked fun in a number of directions, including back at its director.
People love to come back every year. Few run afoul of its many rules, written and unwritten: Attendees are not fans, and they are certainly not a mob. They are patrons. Players seek to nestle their shots close to hole locations, never pin placements. Never call a mound anything like a body bag, even in jest ' not if you ever want to come back.
At a cocktail party this week, I heard recounted a story in support of the notion that every time things look sweet at the National, they may not be. A player agent, a member of a class not revered by the National, was lunching with his player in the clubhouse after midday. The dining room was not crowded; in fact, hardly anyone was there. Neither the agent nor the player was making more than conversational noise. Nobody was dressed in anything alarming.
Nonetheless, after awhile, one of the few members in the room came over to the table and said, Gentlemen, youve been here long enough. Time for you to move on.
The agent was dumbfounded. Did he just say what I thought he said? was all he could think to say to his companion.
The identities were kept secret, so there is no way to determine whether this story was more than apocryphal. Doesnt really matter. True or not, it is a symptom of the envy that sometimes arises in situations involving haves and have-nots. Its the toughest ticket in sports, the club everyone secretly wants into (or at least wonders what it would be like), the golf course best represented over the years as what Heaven must be likeof course tales get told.
Fact is, its their club. When things get inconvenient, the men in the green jackets can sometimes be heard reminding everyone that they could, at any time, pull the rug out from under the whole enterprise. They organize this tournament out of love; they owe the world of golf exactly nothing. And if they ever owed anything, they have long since paid in full.
As inconvenient as some people sometimes find the maze of rules surrounding the Masters, those rules deserve a lot of credit for making the Masters what it is. As a ticket-taker and I concluded Tuesday while watching a patron get into a lather over slow badge checking, the secret this week is to be patient.
So next time I have to wait in line, Ill gladly find a way to pass the time. Perhaps Ill bring a box of Milk-Bones. Heeere, Schnappsnice doggiethats a boy