Nothing Finer Than Augusta National Golf Club

Chad Campbell leads going into round two of the Masters golf tournament. Perhaps no sporting event — or venue — has an aura about it like the Masters, held at Augusta National Golf Club.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

We go now to Augusta, Georgia, where round two of the Masters Golf Tournament gets under way today. Chad Campbell started the day leading by one stroke. And since you can't have a golf story without mentioning Tiger Woods, he begins today five strokes back. But this isn't really a golf story. It's more about a sense of place. NPR's Tom Goldman reports that perhaps no sporting event or venue has an aura about it like the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club.

TOM GOLDMAN: So I pull into the Augusta National parking lot this week on my first day ever at the course. As I'm about to leave the car, a guy in an SUV pulls up next to me, parks, and cranks up some heavy metal music. A woman wearing a black sheriff's cap is on him like that.

Turn it down, she barks. He says something like, I've got a right to play my music. She leans in close and says to him, Listen, it's a privilege, not a right to be in this parking lot. Holy moley, I think to myself, if that's what they think of the parking lot, what's it going to be like out on the golf course?

Mr. CAMPBELL: It is, as I expected, pretty amazing out here. I'm going to put my golf voice on now. The fairways are a deeper, deeper green than they seem on TV and where I'm standing now, on a soft bed of pine needles next to a lush, dark-pink azalea bush, underneath these towering, swaying pine trees. This is just about where singer-songwriter Dave Loggins was 28 years ago, in April 1981.

Mr. DAVE LOGGINS (Singer-Songwriter): And I looked up at these pine trees, and I looked around the golf course, and I just stopped right where I was, and I thought, God didn't make many places that look like this. And I just started singing…

(Singing) Augusta, your dogwoods and pines, they play on my mind like a song.

GOLDMAN: Dave Loggins later recorded what he was singing, took it to CBS Sports and 28 years later, the instrumental version of "Augusta" remains the anthem of the annual Masters TV coverage.

(Soundbite of music)

GOLDMAN: The music puts a spell on Masters viewers each April; so do the pictures of the golf course. They are the ultimate responsibility of Lance Barrow.

Mr. LANCE BARROW (CBS Sports): I'm the coordinating producer of CBS Sports, in charge of football and golf.

GOLDMAN: The football side of Lance Barrow knows that as gorgeous as Augusta is, it's still a sports event, with drama. That's what Barrow wants to convey. But he acknowledges that certain something about Augusta National, the T word: tradition. It's probably overused, but real. The Masters is unique among major tournaments because it comes back to the same place each year. Former champions are always invited back to play, even if it's been decades since they won. Barrow says the CBS team talks about tradition every day, and how to convey in pictures and words.

Mr. BARROW: We talk about it's not a sand trap, it's a bunker. We talk about it's the first cut, second cut, it's not rough. We talk about it's the flagstick, not the pin.

GOLDMAN: That kind of stickler treatment is - sorry - par for the course at Augusta National. Heaven didn't just happen on this fertile, immaculately tended chunk of land. It was and continues to be forged by an iron-fisted devotion to rules. No running, no cell phones. Bring a brand of bottled water on the grounds that's not Masters brand? Rip that label off. And don't even bother asking any green-jacketed member certain questions, which is a bit of a quandary if you're a reporter.

Hello, sir?

Unidentified Man: Yes?

GOLDMAN: Excuse me. You've got a green jacket.

Unidentified Man: Uh-huh.

GOLDMAN: I'm with the - I'm with the press. I'm with NPR. Can you answer some questions about this beautiful golf course?

Unidentified Man: No.

GOLDMAN: You can't answer.

Unidentified Man: No. I'll refer you to the chairman.

GOLDMAN: With visions of Mao in my head, I go looking for the only chairman here, Billy Paine. But I missed his big, annual press conference, so I'm pretty much out of luck. Those questions about how they make the course so beautiful, when will Augusta admit women members - they'll get this response: We don't discuss club policy. It's tradition. You don't like it? Find another golf course. Like this one? Hard to do.

Tom Goldman, NPR News, Augusta.

MONTAGNE: For more of that aura of Augusta, you can read about Tom's trip there at npr.org.

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