By Leo Coughlin
Today's discussion concerns the Masters golf tournament, which wound up Sunday.
Sorry it is not about Tiger Woods. It is about what Augusta National is really all about.
It is about ballyhoo that totally covers up and obscures what really goes on at that exclusive club, the membership of which is restricted to 300 - the elite of the elite.
Except for the once-a-year golf tournament, begun in 1934, and one of the majors, no one else but members and guests play at Augusta National. And then only in the winter months. The course closes for the year after the Masters is played.
What bloody snobbery!
Snobbery and frankly racism is what Augusta National has mostly been about in its 77-year-old history.
Yes, Tiger Woods, whose father was an African-American, has played there. And Lee Elder, a black fellow, broke the color line in 1975.
But those are the only two black professional golfers who ever played at Augusta.
There have always been plenty of black folks around at Augusta National - as servants and employees.
The club, which has no women members (sexist, too, you see), accepted its first African-American member in 1990. That, I guarantee you, raised a lot of eyebrows. And I bet he's a lonely guy.
Elder got to play because under the rules of who gets to play he won a PGA tournament and they could not exclude him.
And when it comes to Woods, how can you keep that guy out of anything to do with golf.
You can say, "So what," to the snobbish angle. And you would be right. Golf traditionally was a sport for the affluent. A hundred years ago it was unheard of for regular folks to own golf clubs and play.
Then came Francis Ouimet, a poor boy, son of immigrants, of Brookline, Massachusetts. The family lived near The Country Club - note that, please: THE Country Club. That characterized what golf then was all about. For the elite. Regular folks, keep rowing.
Ouimet took an interest in golf. He started as a caddy. His interest grew and he found he had talent. That talent turned him into a very good golfer and, at age 20, Ouimet won the United States Open. That, friends, was a bombshell.
Instantly, golf became popular among the struggling masses. Oh, they couldn't hang around The Country Club or the other private clubs that existed for the moneyed folks. Public golf courses sprang up.
In the 1920s a colorful fellow further popularized golf. He was Walter Hagen, a truly great character. Keep in mind that in those days and for many days thereafter professional golfers were looked down upon.
Pro golfers weren't allowed within the confines of a country club except to change clothes. They were "trade." Not welcome to rub elbows with the soigne membership.
The Depression put the kibosh on a game that had now filtered down to ordinary folks who scraped together enough bucks to get a few clubs - maybe not a full bag, but enough to play with.
Along came players like Gene Sarazen, Horton Smith, Byron Nelson, Craig Wood, Jimmy Demaret and then Sam Snead, Ben Hogan.
These guys with their fame allowed players to come in through the front door.
And then came the surge of golf popularity with President Eisenhower. That surge turned into an explosion with the coming of Arnold Palmer who started modern golf on the road to high popularity it enjoys today. Television, of course, played a vital role in it all.
Golf used to be a quiet sport. The galleries were quiet, at best murmuring. Now they seem very noisy, from what I gather on television. The players, too, are more demonstrable - fist pumps, arms in the air with victory salutes to themselves, high fives. Sort of what Ebbets Field used to be like.
I used to go to Augusta when I was a ball writer. The last time was 45 years ago. No one in the field that wound it up Sunday was known then and many were not yet born.
It's not so important who won. The ultimate victory at Augusta National is that the blatant racism has been subdued. Talent will do that.
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