Augusta diary: Insiders and outsiders
Just gone seven on the pilgrim track that is Washington Road, pedestrians out-pacing the snarled-up morning traffic in their race to see gods of the game hit their ceremonial drives.
Everyone's dressed in garish multicolour except for one skinny, bespectacled man in pencil grey suit and black tie, pacing the car-park of Denny's with a placard above his head that declares "God must punish sin!"
His run-down people-carrier is parked nearby, graffitied with messages like "Repent or die" and "God is a great friend, but a TERRIBLE enemy!"
In another place, at another time, he might expect a few sarcastic shouts from the stagnant traffic, but there's a communal solemnity to this slow-moving train. The people hurrying to see Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player already seem swaddled in awe and reverence before they even get to the rolling emerald landscape of Augusta National.
And that's the funny thing about Masters week. The town of Augusta is like a cruel, practical joke played on first-timers to this tournament, the gates to the club pretty much where the experience morphs from a frazzled nightmare of burger joints and cheap motels into something akin to Julie Andrews levitating above an Austrian valley.
While everybody's trying to make a quick buck outside the golf course, inside nobody's got a clammy hand in your pocket. Free parking, free daily pairing sheets and cheap food and drink all convey the message that this is no huckster's Paradise.
So the whippet-thin man telling us all to repent was selling his message to just about the deafest audience imaginable. One armed with tickets and badges guaranteed to get them by St Peter at the gate.
Number of the day
160 The combined age of honorary starters yesterday, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus. Player (82) and Nicklaus (78) were introduced by the starter as two legends of this place, boasting 10 green jackets between them. A grinning Nicklaus looked over at Player. "You got four?"
"Nope!" "Well, I ain't got seven! Great, there must be another green jacket for this today!"
The two later offered compelling entertainment on the modern bugbear of slow play, epitomised by JB Holmes recently taking over four minutes before laying up on a par-five 18 at the Farmers Insurance Open.
Nicklaus reflected how they used be able to complete a round at the British Open in two hours and 20 minutes long before the appetite for detail took such a stranglehold. Player was aghast at players pulling yardage books from their pockets before lining up a putt. "Ben Hogan never played with a yardage book in his life," he scoffed.
Quote of the day
"It's something I never thought I would see in my lifetime. I vividly remember when they were talking about women being members of the golf club. Tiger Woods and I really stood up for them and said that they should be admitted to the club, much to our detriment amongst a lot of the members." - Gary Player reflecting on Monday's announcement of a women's tournament heading to Augusta National next year, something which would have been unimaginable in the not-too-distant past.
It would be August 2012 when Augusta National, then chaired by Billy Payne, admitted its first two female members - Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, and South Carolina businesswoman Darla Moore.
It's said that female membership has since stretched to four, out of a total of 300. A step towards more intelligent self-awareness indisputably, but hardly a soaring trumpet line for female emancipation.
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