Even before the final four games of March Madness 2011 were played the baseball season was underway. Now in this first week of April the spotlight is on golf and the Masters where all is calm; no wild, cheering crowds that are so important for the fast game of basketball.
Well behaved, quiet golf fans enjoy watching specialists bring their skill to hitting a small ball hole to hole slowly and deliberately. They have spent the last three days playing practice rounds. Tomorrow the golf pros, all participating by invitation, begin the serious business of playing their best in quest of donning the coveted green jacket at day’s end on Sunday.
Golf’s history began with games that resembled modern golf and had been played for centuries in Asia and Europe. The first written record of golf was in Scotland in 1457. James 11 barred the game because it was an unwelcome distraction to soldiers learning archery. By 1603 British royalty was playing golf and as the empire grew Scottish soldiers, expatriates and emigrants took the game to the colonies.
The origin of golf remains a question. Early Scotchmen invented a fanciful explanation. They said the idea came from hitting a pebble around sand dunes with a stick. There is no question that Scotland took golf seriously. The oldest surviving rules of golf were written in 1744 for the Company of Gentlemen Golfers in Edinburgh.
When you consider the crude equipment for the game at that time one wonders what kept the game going. The first golf balls were hand-sewn featheries. Goose feathers were stuffed into a wet leather pouch and as the leather shrunk while it dried the feathers expanded creating a hardened, compact ball. Because of the time and labor only two balls could be made in a day. By 1848 the gutta percha was introduced. This ball was made from dried tree sap. It performed well, was cheaper and more durable.
The popularity of the game spread and as early as 1779 a New York newspaper advertised golf clubs and balls for sale. In 1796 a notice of a general meeting of the golf club appeared in the Savannah Georgia Gazette.
On March 22, 1934 the Augusta National Invitation Tournament was held. In 1939 the name was changed to the Masters. Good luck smiled on that game because sportswriters were returning from Florida where they had been covering baseball spring training. Many of them decided to stop by Augusta to watch the golfers and the stories they wrote spread the word around the nation about this new golfing competition.
The Masters became an annual event except from 1943-45 because of WW11. During those years the Augusta National grounds were used to raise cattle and turkeys to help the war effort.
Everything about the Masters is tightly controlled but southern hospitality abounds. Last year’s Augusta National Chairman felt it was necessary to speak to the press about Tiger Woods’ “conduct that is egregious here.” He added that it disappointed all of us and more importantly our kids and grandkids.
The code of conduct for the men that golf is a Gentlemen’s game is just as important for the women golf pros. They play a Ladies’ game.