No sporting event takes itself more seriously than the Masters. You famously can’t even carry your cellphone, let alone use it. You can’t run on the grounds, you can’t call the fans “fans” or the rough “rough.” (They are “patrons” and “second cut.”) The sandwiches are famously cheap and the TV commercials are famously limited, all to remind you that this is not really about money, it’s about a Tradition Unlike Any Other.
Well, so much for tradition. There will be no Masters this April. Fred Ridley, Augusta National’s chair, announced Friday that it has been postponed indefinitely.
It was the right choice. It was, really, the only choice.
It is hard for golf fans and players alike to imagine April without the Masters. This is the tournament that this generation of players values the most; Rory McIlroy—who has won the other three legs of the career grand slam and therefore has a personal interest in saying they are all important—has been clear that he thinks the Masters is the biggest tournament in the world. The vast majority of his peers seem to agree.
And for many fans, the Masters represents something more: golf at its most familiar and most exciting, and the start of the season. Yes, the pros play year-round these days. But weekend golfers in states with four distinct seasons play most of their golf in the summer. For golf fans, the Masters is like Opening Day and the World Series wrapped together. Moving the PGA from August to May did not seem to offend anybody. Moving the Masters from April to any other month seems heretical.
Of course, the people at Augusta National value their place on the calendar and in the sports world. It’s not the biggest event in sports, but it is the one with the most exclusive feel. Augusta National members love the prestige by association; that’s why people join in the first place. Without the Masters, Augusta National is just another beautiful private club.
So, it’s safe to assume that nobody at Augusta National wanted to make this announcement. And yet, of all the sports entities that closed for business this week, Augusta National was the safest bet to make the right decision.
The PGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the NBA and the NCAA are all revenue-driven operations (though to be fair to the NCAA, it is also a participation-driven operation.) The Masters is the rare sporting event that prioritizes optics over profit.
Augusta National makes such a big deal about proper social decorum. The one thing you must do when you’re there is behave the way the stewards expect you to behave. Then you can have the time of your life.
There was simply no chance in the world that Augusta National was going to hold a major sporting event while all these leagues shut down. It especially would not happen with Ridley in charge. He is the one who took over and almost immediately created the Augusta National Women’s Amateur. That move showed an understanding that Augusta National needed to change with the times, and that all the criticism of the club’s white-male dominance over the years did matter.
And so Ridley made the right decision again. It was inevitable. The only question was whether he would wait a week or two, since the COVID-19 story changes every hour.
But with so many states canceling school until early April, and the Final Four already canceled, it did not make sense for the Masters to hold out hope of an April staging. That would seem desperate and gauche. Worse, it would open the real possibility of the PGA of America canceling or postponing May’s PGA in San Francisco, one of the epicenters of the outbreak, before Augusta National made a decision about the Masters. That would have made Augusta National look awful.
Ridley quickly said what needed to be said, in classic understated Augusta National fashion: “We hope this postponement puts us in the best position to safely host the Masters Tournament and our amateur events at some later date.” The club is closed in the summer. October seems like a logical time to hold the event. Then it will feel, more than ever, like Opening Day and the World Series wrapped together.