Pageant of the Masters

In the small but wealthy community of Laguna Beach, California, the crown jewel of the annual Festival of Arts is an event known as the Pageant of the Masters.  The Pageant is remarkable entertainment: ninety minutes of classical and contemporary art pieces, recreated one-by-one on stage in larger-than-life frames, using real people instead of their painted counterparts.  Makeup, lighting, and carefully choreographed sets complete each “painting”, resulting in a remarkably accurate depiction when the curtain sweeps aside.  Add in the accompanying music from the live orchestra and it is a nonpareil performance.  Thousands attend the Pageant each summer, as they have since its beginnings in 1932.

In the smaller but modest community of Augusta, Georgia, the sporting world was witness to another nonpareil performance last weekend – the Masters golf tournament.  Just like the Pageant, thousands attend golf’s Masters each April, as they have since its beginnings in 1934.  To me, the Masters is golf as a fine art.

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Whether or not you play golf – whether or not you even like golf – there is no denying the Augusta National Golf Club is a beautiful place.  The photos here do not do it justice, but most of us will have to settle for just that – photos.  Tickets to the Masters go on the market a year in advance (apply now for 2017!), and a four-day tournament badge runs upwards of $2,500.  Candidly, even a golf fan like myself – who has “visit Augusta National” on his bucket list – would rather watch the action on television.  The price of cable gets you far more camera angles and coverage than you could ever hope for in person.

Augusta National’s eighteen holes are so revered that each one has been given a name.  The first photo above is #12 “Golden Bell”, the shortest but perhaps trickiest of them all.  It’s a spectacular par-3 where the tee shot must clear water and then land on a small green protected by several sand bunkers.  This year’s tournament was lost on this hole.

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This photo is #15 “Firethorn”, a twisting par-5 that tempts you to go for the green in two – if you’re brave enough to tune out the creek that runs in front of and behind the green.  Firethorn also has the distinction of a hole where Masters tournaments have been won or lost.

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It’s easy to get lost in the pageantry of the Masters, whether it be the ceremonial opening tee shots from prior champions, the CBS theme song “Augusta”, the reverent tones of commentator Jim Nantz, or the endless camera shots of the color-burst of spring azaleas against the backdrop of bright green fairways.  But don’t ignore the play itself.  You’re witnessing one hundred of the world’s best golfers, competing on one of sport’s most difficult stages.  Watch them as they bend shots blindly around trees and over water, or curl in putts that move from left to right and then left again.  Augusta National is a true test of composure and will.  Masters champions are artists in their own right.  Like Laguna Beach, it really is a Pageant of the Masters.

Photos courtesy of the Official Program of the 2006 Masters Tournament