Watching The Masters with my dad

It’s the beginning of Spring. It’s a golfer’s New Year. It’s Masters week.

As we end one of our nation’s most popular and prestigious sporting events with the Final Four, we begin another one that also is “a tradition like no other.” The Masters is a strange event. And Augusta National Golf Club is a strange place. The list of stories connected to them seems infinite.

Like anyone raised as a golfer, by a golfer, I have a few of my own.

My dad loved The Masters like no other sporting event. He was an athlete as a young man, a four sport star at Purcell High School in Cincinnati. Golf was not one of those sports. He did, however, caddy at Cincinnati Country Club many years before taking up the game.

Dad started playing golf later in life, but before the beginning of my memory. His handicap was never better than four, which made him an “A” player. But me and my little brother started beating him like a drum during our teenage years, and he never really seemed to fully enjoy that. We were with him the day he hit his second hole in one, and his lack of excitement about it made us both want to kill him. It was the first ace I ever saw.

His attitude about it was: “there will be others.” He was right. All three of his sons have one now.

He was a great fan of golf. He and my mom watched every tournament. As coverage grew in quality and quantity, they watched more and more. When I was a kid though, TV was different.

Who remembers watching Masters highlights after the local CBS news at 11:30 on Thursday and Friday night of tournament week? First and second round highlights was all we got back in the seventies. And we were damn thankful for them. I got to stay up late on school nights for two things then: Monday Night Football and Thursday Masters highlights.

These days I am not a great golf fan. There’s so much of it with modern TV, tournaments are no longer “events” like they used to be. Unlike my parents, I need a reason to watch golf. Of course, that doesn’t apply this week.

The elite nature of Augusta National, and the power its status has wielded in the creation and stewardship of golf’s premiere event, continues to set a standard in almost every way. Remember the Martha Burk protest of the club for a lack of women members? Fans got a commercial free broadcast the next year. The Masters doesn’t actually need sponsors. Or inflated concessions prices.

Everything is cheap at the concession stand there, but nothing beats the $1.50 pimento cheese sandwich.

Of all the things I remember most about Masters weekend in my house though, is the cheeseball. Huh? My parents came into possession of a cheeseball recipe a long time ago that is from the Augusta clubhouse. It is only to be served at tea time during the Masters. It’s pretty distinctive because of the strawberry preserves that rest on top of it. “Tea time” in our house thankfully was all day.

Slowly that cheeseball became a staple in our house, in a blatant display of defiance toward club protocol.

But most of all, I’m glad that I get to reminisce about something I shared with my dad. Watching golf with someone, even more so than playing it, almost requires conversation. This was always a week where the generation gap was actually fun. I could talk to him about things like why Fred Couples is cooler than Arnold Palmer. My dad wasn’t cool, so he needed that.

He could talk to me about the flowers on the course. He had a breathtaking flower garden himself, though nothing was ever in bloom in Indiana yet. Dad had champion rose bushes, but he loved Augusta’s azaleas. These days, we could talk about the piped in songbird noises on the CBS telecast, and the bizarre absence of those birds on the grounds. He and I never discussed that one before he passed away. He also never knew his daughter-in-law doesn’t love birds like we do.

The Masters looks differently than every other tournament. It sounds differently. It has its own food. It even has its own unique collection of shames in it’s past. But most of all, it’s something I grew up sharing with my dad.

And now even though dad is gone, because of my dad, it will always be my favorite week of the year.