It's that time of the year again when golf lovers decidedly plan their week-long travel to Georgia in the US to find themselves at or in the vicinity of the Augusta Masters. It's the most coveted of all golf tournaments with air of the 'classic'. It's the Audrey Hepburn of all golf tournaments. If you ask golfers at India Inc where they'd like to be seen, it's here. The golf greats are seen here, navigating the golf ball through some narrow fairways, plenty of manicured mini-forests of dogwood blooms and abundance of flower beds.
The course was formerly a plant nursery and each hole on the course is named after the tree or shrub with which it has become associated. It's where the prize money is less important than the winner's green jacket, a long time tradition since 1949.
Unlike the other major championships, the Masters is held each year at the same location, Augusta National Golf Club, a private golf club in the city of Augusta, Georgia. This tournament was started by Clifford Roberts and Bobby Jones. Jones designed Augusta National with course architect Alister MacKenzie. The field of players is smaller than those of the other major championships because it is an invitational event, held by the Augusta National Golf Club.
Regular at Augusta is Pawan Munjal of Hero Moto Group who just recently made headlines for hosting Tiger Woods in India. Besides his love for the sport Munjal also used his Masters ticket to get to know Woods. Dilip Thomas of the south based AVT group is a regular at the event. Ajay Kaul of Dominoes Pizza, a rather avid corporate golfer is also among the few CEOs who have been to The Masters. Rolex, which has a wide presence in the golf circuit takes a few patrons from India now and then. Yogesh Shah, who runs the company here is a regular. Siddharth Shriram is almost there every year. Anshu Jain, Gautam Thapar, Rana Talwar are among the Indians who have marked their presence at the event.
One of the reason why CEOs love Augusta National is because they get to meet people without the suit and ties, without their entourages and PR. Instead they sit around, below garden umbrellas munching their sandwiches or simply walking through the fairways. With phones a novelty, the berries and iPhones are relegated to later. Much later. Courtesy and civility are so core to the championship that even the most boisterous corporate flamboyance is in to be tamed. The traditions at Augusta are so well guarded, it even treats it big sponsors with regimen. It reportedly allows only the event's three global sponsors, IBM, Exxon Mobil and AT&T, to advertise on the broadcasts and limits the number of minutes as well.
The Masters is embedded in history and some of them are indeed unique. You could get a coffee and an egg sandwich for less than three dollars, which is cheaper than a single small coffee at a Starbucks. The tournament has recently seen interest in Asia as the game grow. Until a decade ago it was a tournament few labored to go watch from this part of the world. It was the slow and steady success of non-Americans that brought it global attention. Non-Americans collected 11 victories in 20 years in the 1980s and 1990s, by far the strongest run they have had in any of the three majors played in the US since the early days of the US Open. The first European to win the Masters was Seve Ballesteros in 1980. Nicklaus became the oldest player to win the Masters in 1986 when he won for the sixth time at age 46.
The thing about The Masters is, it bows to no one. No corporate can usurp its presence in global golf and no sponsor or corporate hot shot can stake claim to it. It's what remains precious just as the beautiful surroundings in which players put their best together to come out triumphant in the holy grail of golf.