HALF A PROUD TRADITION AUGUSTA'S FRONT-NINE BLACKOUT DEPRIVES TV FANS OF A TOTAL MASTERS EXPERIENCE

April 16, 1995

Here's my new idea for a Masters highlight tape. You get the
winner and a few other players together, and you have them sit
next to Bill Macatee in the Butler Cabin. Then you have them
describe, without the aid of pictures, the great and
not-so-great shots they hit during the tournament. Just imagine
-- 60 minutes of replay-free entertainment.

I got the idea -- well, stole it actually -- during Thursday's
first round of the Masters. Six-time Masters champion Jack
Nicklaus had just shot 67, enlivened by an eagle on the
practically unassailable par-4 5th hole. So Macatee leaned
toward Nicklaus and said, ``Tell us about your eagle at 5.''

And Nicklaus did.

Now some folks will protest that my idea already has a name:
radio. But this wasn't radio. I could see that Nicklaus was
wearing a cerulean blue sweater. I could see that Macatee's tie
was a centimeter or so off-center. And I could see some chairs,
a mantlepiece, a few bricks of a fireplace and some plants and
flowers on the hearth behind them. The only thing I couldn't see
was Nicklaus holing out with a five-iron from the 5th fairway.
The closest I got to a replay was Saturday, when Nicklaus
explained how he had eagled the hole a second time (above).

Even more than sarcasm, I like paradox. Nicklaus's unrecorded
deuces on the 5th hole were historic -- the first time a player
had eagled the same par- 4 in one Masters. His unprecedented
feat also reopened the question of why Augusta National Golf
Club stubbornly refuses to let CBS provide live television
coverage of the front nine. Masters chairman Jack Stephens was
asked to explain this on Wednesday, and he said the matter was
under ``constant review.'' He then murmured something about
``maintaining quality.'' The paradox is that the Masters -- the
tournament that introduced spectator scoreboards on every hole
and a dozen other innovations designed to enhance the experience
for tournament watchers -- would consider the near- total TV
blackout of the front nine a quality enhancement. Imagine a
Super Bowl telecast that started with the third quarter, or a
baseball game that. . . . O.K., it's hard enough just to imagine
a baseball game.

The only thing I like better than paradox is mystery. Stephens
told The New York Times last week that he wasn't going to let
anybody plow up the front nine of his course to bury television
cables. The fact is, Augusta's front nine was wired for
television 15 years ago when CBS put in the permanent cabling
for the back nine. When asked for clarification on Thursday, one
of the green jackets on the club's television committee turned
pale and stammered that he would have to phone the tournament
director, Walton (Buzzy) Johnson, for instructions. The
tournament director then said that any questions should be
submitted in writing, with answers to come, if at all, in a day
or two.

Too slow. Inquiring minds want to know: Is something other than
cables buried on the front nine? Is the 5th hole covered with
unsightly dandelions and poa annua? Does player profanity on the
unputtable 6th green make the front side unfit for a general
audience? Or is it simply a matter of control--Augusta National
withholding half its glory to remind us that any television
coverage is provided at the club's sole discretion.

Certainly CBS is no obstacle. Frank Chirkinian, who has
produced the Masters for 37 years, said last week, ``If they
decide next year to do 18 holes live, we're willing and ready to
go.'' But in the meantime we're subjected to sad deprivations
like last Thursday's, in which Nicklaus's moment of drama was
reduced to Q and A, his shot preserved not even by one of the
portable cameras that intermittently roam the front nine.

Ken Venturi may have had it right years ago when he said, ``The
Masters doesn't really start until the last nine holes on
Sunday.'' But if I could catch Stephens's ear, I would whisper
the following heresy:

The Masters actually starts on the 1st hole on Thursday.

COLOR PHOTO: DAVE MARTIN/AP [Jack Nicklaus.]

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)