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Is the Masters really the most prestigious sporting event in America?

Tim McDonaldBy Tim McDonald,
Augusta National's 10th Hole
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You have to admire the way the brass at Augusta National have held the fort against the relentless commercialism of our times. (Courtesy)

The Masters, partly because of its limited commercialism, is ranked the most prestigious sporting event in the U.S.

When I first read that a poll in Sports Business Journal magazine ranked The Masters as the most prestigious event in American sports, I didn't so much chuckle as sneer. I have a world-class sneer. Don't get on the wrong side of my sneer.

More prestigious than the most raucously American of all sporting events, the Super Bowl? More prestigious than the most sacred event of our beloved national pastime, the World Series?

Absurd. Laughable. Sneer-able. Another example of golf taking itself too seriously.

Then, I looked at the poll's methodology. It was done by the Turnkey Sports Poll, and it used more than 800 "senior-level sports industry executives" from pro and college sports.

Well, exactly. This is what happens when you bypass the real world, the real sports fan, and ask executives what they think. Golf is the glue that holds the corporate world together. It isn't so much a game to corporate types as a way of closing a deal outdoors, on an expense account. You think Donald Trump is going to do bidness during a touch-football game?

But, as usual, my mouth was popping off, figuratively speaking, before my brain had a chance to catch up.

One of the criteria cited was the lack of commercialism evident at The Masters, both at the event itself and in its television coverage.

Now, you can cite all the negatives you care to come up with about The Masters and Augusta National Golf Club and its old-fogey leadership. You can call them misogynistic, sexist and elitist. I wouldn't give you a strong argument.

But - and this is a big but - I absolutely admire the way they have held the fort against the relentless and all-encompassing commercialism of our times.

The Masters limits commercials broadcast during the tournament to four minutes an hour, as opposed to the normal 12 minutes.

They will not allow promos for other network programs - one of my bigger annoyances - and no on-course announcers whispering desperately, "I think it's a 7-iron!"

No blimps - thank you, Jesus. How many times can you point up in the sky and say, "Hey, look at the blimp." We get it. You hired a blimp! Blimps float around in the sky! They are inherently boring!

The Masters will stay past its allotted TV time until all the live action is done, for all four rounds, unlike others. It wasn't until the 21st century that they allowed full, 18-hole coverage of the leaders.

The Masters has only one-year deals with the networks, unheard of in other sports. The better to tell them to hit the highway if they don't like the way things are done.

I even quietly admired the way they handled the Martha Burk controversy. When women's groups pressured the Masters to allow women members by threatening to boycott sponsors, then-chairman Hootie Johnson fired the middlemen. He canned the sponsors!

The 2003 and '04 Masters had no commercials. None. Zip. Now, I happened to sympathize with the women's groups at the time, but I enjoyed even more the way Hootie told IBM, Citigroup, and Coca-Cola to take it down the road, their services wouldn't be needed.

"We enjoyed our one-year sponsorship of the Masters, and we wish them well," a Coca-Cola spokesman said at the time.


Granted, some of this has to do with enhancing the image of the tournament, promoting its aura as it were, and that could in itself be seen as a savvy business move. But I prefer to think of the old boys at Augusta loving their golf course and their tournament and trying to keep it unsullied by corporate hucksters, as much as anyone can in these times.

I used to cover the Super Bowl on a regular basis, and by about the fifth or sixth year, I had come to loathe it. It's evolved into a crass, crude carnival, where the commercials are more important than the game itself. It's wall-to-wall advertisements, everyone from the biggest corporations to two-bit, fly-by-night shady dealers trying to get a piece of the big carcass.

Once in Miami - I kid you not - I ran into a hooker on an elevator wearing a skimpy T-shirt advertising a company I shall not name, even if I could remember it.

So, yeah, I'll go with The Masters as our most prestigious sporting event. I just hope they don't use the honor in an ad campaign.

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Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Prestigious???

    Course Collector wrote on: Feb 26, 2008

    Having played over 50% of most top 100 lists (including Augusta), I find this proposition preposterous. Given the sampling are most likely the hands that feed Augusta, the result is not surprising. "Prestige" is in the eyes of the beholder. For the majority of the world (golf or not), the Masters and Augusta National represent old money, old ways ("tradition"), and most importantly, old attitudes. For many of us, admiring a group of self-centered bigots (and those who may not be bigots but still associate with them) is not prestigious. I appreciated the opportunities to have played there but the attitudes and bigotry I experienced and saw are NOT what I would call prestigious. The reason there are no commercials: when you have amassed concentrated wealth on the back of the common folks through both "legal" and other means, you don't need outside funding. Goes to show how far we still have to go in this country and how far perception and reality are from each other...


  • The Masters

    Wendy (UK) wrote on: Feb 25, 2008

    &, of course, it is revered by those o/s the US as well.