As players are a few hours away from teeing off the 2012 Masters from Augusta National, golf fans everywhere eagerly await the next piece of history to be written by the end of Sunday evening, adding to the tradition inherent in one of golf's greatest events. However, while tradition is revered within Butler Cabin and the sacred grounds of Augusta, those who are dedicated to protecting this sense of tradition may be doing more harm than good.
Everyone has their favorite aspect of Masters week: the Par 3 contest, pimento cheese sandwiches, skipping golf balls off lakes, the green jacket, the legacy of Bobby Jones and many others. In a way, we couldn't even have the Masters without that sense of tradition.
Only the best of the best are invited to play in the event -- by tradition -- and past champions are welcomed back as competitors on an annual basis -- by tradition. Prior to the event, champions traditionally hold a dinner hosted by the previous year's winner, which includes dishes from his homeland (or home state, as it were).
Simply put, you couldn't get away from an overwhelming sense of "tradition" on Magnolia Lane even if you tried.
But now and again, this sense of tradition is questioned by those who are deemed "outliers" to the rules of Augusta National. Traditionally, the golf club only allows males to become members, a requirement that has been in place for more than 70 years. As was discussed in this space earlier this week, however, this tradition has come under scrutiny amid the possibility of Augusta National withholding a special invitation to the CEO of IBM because she is a woman.
(As an aside, let's not forget something about Billy Payne: While Payne has a great deal of pull at Augusta National, he is first and foremost the head of an entire membership that works as a democratic entity, which includes votes and opinions on who should be issued invitations and who should not. So before we all grab our torches and pitchforks and head for Payne's house, we must remember that his is not the only voice being expressed in this issue.)
Therein lies the contradiction. While tradition is celebrated as being as big a part of the Masters as the course on which it is played, this same element threatens the very integrity of what made the golf club distinguished in the first place.
Should Augusta National allow female members? I don't see what it would hurt. But at the same time, I have to respect any decision Payne and Augusta reach "in the spirit of upholding tradition," since that element is the very reason why I -- and many others -- love this event so much.