A Reason to Play Hooky

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ORLANDO, Fla. ' There is a refined elegance to these types of gatherings, no matter the contrived nature or competitive void, like a turn-of-the-century ballpark, however many of those remain, or a comfortable porch.
 
The Tavistock Cup will never be confused for team tilts of deeper meaning and even deeper roots ' Tiger Woods light-hearted offering of a pair of autographed tighty whiteies on the opening tee to Henrik Stenson all but cemented the events place among the games more buoyant gatherings ' but there is an ageless quality to golfs most high-profile club match.
 
The dichotomy between old and new is palpable. The driveway into Lake Nona Golf & Country Club, the cups posh south Orlando digs, is lined with pricey, high-powered ski boats and sports cars. Corporate tents frame the 18th fairway. Motorcycles and boats and all manner of adult toys are on the table for participants, as well as $300K for the stroke play winner. Not a bad take for two days of work.
 
And yet on the course, away from the trappings, there is a gentle aura that comes when fans ' those of the core variety, not the You da man, masses ' gather to watch a game.
 
As Woods drifted passed moss-draped oaks lining the 10th fairway early Monday, the crowds carelessly wandered with him. It was a scene void of the normal sprinting and maneuvering required when the world No. 1 plays the game in public, a civilized and to scale version of the Masters with crowds easing down the middle of fairways, moving to within feet of modern legends and gleaning a rare glimpse into the mind of a touring professional.
 
Its a snapshot from a bygone era. A scene pulled straight from grainy black-and-white photos and historic matches contested by golfs greatest ghosts. The only thing that has changed is the names on the tote boards and the galleries attire ' per Tavistock requests fans must wear either red, representing Isleworth, who else?, or blue, supporting the Lake Nona home team.
 
This must be what it was like for Vardon and Hagen and Sarazen. Back before we had drug testing and launch monitors and fitness trailers, appearances fees were not only acceptable but the only way to pay the bills. They played majors for glory and exhibitions for money and pure entertainment value and the masses gathered not because a marketing machine told them to, but for the experience.
 
In modern terms, the Tavistock Cup is little more than a curiosity for the fringe fan. Without official money or FedEx Cup point implications, wouldnt this be called a practice round? But for the lucky few who donned red and blue the matches are a scene straight out of the cinema classic The greatest game ever played, intimate and unhurried and as good as any reason to play hooky from work.
 
The helicopter service from Isleworth to Lake Nona, a span of less than 15 miles, may seem a bit much and the sprawling hospitality curiously out of place, but the competition is pure and the seats as unobstructed as they come.
 
Besides, part of the events contrived nature is part of the reason it works. Where else could one see Stenson, a European Ryder Cup thoroughbred, teamed with Chris DiMarco, an American cup workhorse? This made-for-the-masses one-off pairs Mark McNulty and Mark OMeara, now Champions Tour staples, with Darren Clarke and Ben Curtis, players still in the prime of their careers.
 
Best of all you get laughs. Laughs from Tour players more often than not blinded by competitive blinders and the moment. Where else would you here one player gush over the opportunity to play with Woods because of the laughs they were going to have?
 
Any time you get to play with Tiger is great. You get to watch him hit shots and in this format you can have a lot of laughs to, said Ian Poulter, Woods singles opponent on Tuesday, with a straight face.
 
Seriousness will envelop the game soon enough. The intensity of Augusta National will soon give way to the pressure of Bethpage Black and the U.S. Open. Soon enough the masses will be moved back behind the gallery ropes and the smiles will fade.
 
So for two days in March we turn the calendars back to before Tiger made the game the coolest ticket in town, and just enjoy the walk.
 

Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - Tavistock Cup