Ah, spring time.
The moment in the year where we take a moment or two to luxuriate in the wonders of mother nature. All the beautiful colours bursting forth through the earth, the green of the trees returning, the pollen choking the air.
Young people are getting ready for their proms and formals, children are nervously giving recitals to show off the wonderful talent his or her parents are sure they possess.
Some slightly older kids are experiencing their first spring break away from home (safely, I hope).
The Florida Snowbirds are beginning to make their way back up Interstate 95 on their reverse migration.
Yes, Spring is full of life and rites.
Here in our fair city, we have a fairly famous rite of spring. School children call it spring break, others refer to it as Golf Week, others still say its Master’s Week, but those of us who do not have vacation during this week to come have another name for it: The Traffic Jam from Hell Week.
The first full week in April people literally from around the globe descend upon our town. Presidents, movie stars, celebrities, the quietly rich, the corporate makhers, the media and the lucky few, who are on the “list”, come to see the most prestigious golf game in the US.
It is a boon to the restaurants, the nursery’s, the golf cart companies (we have two major producers), realtors, hotels, cleaning businesses and souvenir hawkers. People rent out their homes, front yards and businesses, sometimes for astronomical prices.
To many of us, its one long Cutters vs. the College Kids week.
One of the main thoroughfares that bisects our town is shut down during the game’s peak hours, roughly 8am to 5pm. The main drag where my favorite grocery stores and restaurants reside are all but impenetrable beginning Monday and ending next Sunday – late. As seasoned veterans of this week, we usually go the Saturday or Sunday before the practice rounds start and stock up on things we anticipate needing in regards to food staples. Its kind of like being prepared for a tornado or hurricane. Stock up on bread and milk cause you’re not quite sure when you might ever see them again.
This is the only week of the year that Taco Bell takes reservations.
I once had a job on the main drag. What normally took 10 minutes to travel, took an hour during this week. I learned to arrive early, leave late and brown bag my lunch.
I attended the tournament back in the dark ages of the 70s courtesy of Indiana Jones my best friend in high school. Indy’s father was a long time resident of our city and was on “the list” back when there was only 20 people on the list. This was the tournament itself, not the practice rounds, mind you.
Once you enter the course, it makes a lasting impression.
The grounds were Stepford wife immaculate. Nary a leaf fell before it was removed so as to not mar the beauty of the surroundings. The azaleas were some of the deepest colours I had ever seen. The dogwoods, perfect in their pink and white halos. (Television does not do them justice, even with HD.) Its rumored they ice the plants to keep them from blooming too early. The staff were polite and helpful, although ever on guard should anyone not wearing the official Green Jacket attempt to enter the sacred main house. There was no such thing as a red Solo cup.
It was fun to walk about the timeless and beautiful greens and listen to the conversations of the gallery and the players. We heard Jack Nicklaus swear under his breath when he missed a shot in jail and laughed with Lee Trevino when he said of a less than stellar bunker shot, “If it had been any other course, I’d made it.”
The years we went together, Indy and I laughed as smug locals when we knew to leave the grounds before the rain storms hit. It was a great lark for two silly teenagers to enjoy.
But thirty some odd years later, as an adult, the tournament and its effects on my city have come to mean different things, aside from the fact that I have to relearn all the back roads in order to get anywhere.
There is a grudging pride that our town has a famous cause célèbre and I wouldn’t mind attending again some day to see if my thirty-five year old memories are true to life, but other things tug at my mind at the same time.
The course is sandwiched in between commercial and residential areas. The powers that be have been slowly buying up the outer edges of each of these communities and transforming them into havens of retreat and money making.
The restaurant that served my prom dinner is gone. The area now houses hospitality suites for the big name attendees. The neighborhood where Indy was born and lived his entire life, the house his father built is gone – bulldozed, sodded and graveled for parking. It is difficult to drive through knowing that this is all for one week’s golf game. Our history is being paved over.
Glaring examples of racism and sexism still exist with the private club where the game is held. It was national news 10 years ago when it was brought forth that women could not be members on their own accord. They had to ride on a husband or father’s coat tails. Women are still not allowed as members even though one of its major sponsors this year has a woman CEO.
Up until 1975, no African American players were seen. Lee Elder broke that boundary, but he suffered death threats to have the honor of playing. The first African American wasn’t even admitted as a member until 1990. Tiger Woods was the first to win and even then it was amongst racist remarks from his fellow players.
These are things that tend to be swept under the greens this week for the love of tradition and home town honor.
To those who scream, the private club is within its rights to determine who can and cannot belong; that men should be allowed to have their own bastion of refuge, please bear in mind that this not a some unknown private supper club. This is an internationally known and visited establishment, that boasts of members the likes of US Presidents and international CEOs.
It is the home of one of the most prestigious invitational golf games in the world. Host to some of the finest players in the world. It should represent the best that world has to offer, not some antiquated idea of social propriety. It is possible to remain dignified and sophisticated without shutting out people on the basis of sex, colour or religion for that matter. It will still be a private club.
As for me, I will continue to rant about the traffic and laugh at the sudden golf interest my non-golf playing friends have this week. I will watch the final moments on television to see who wins and I will continue to quietly campaign for an even playing field for all.
For those of you who have made the holy pilgrimage to our fair city this week, I realize you are here for the game and companionship of those who love it, not because of social reform. Enjoy your visit, our local fare, both food and merchandise, but please keep these things in mind.
The middle lane is not called the “suicide lane” for nothing. Please be kind and move along the appointed golf traffic routes (some of us do have to go to work). Tip your wait and cleaning staff well, it takes a lot to go to work this week. And please keep the outside of the course as clean as the inside.