Early April in the Deep South. Azaleas, dogwoods and cherry trees popping, the sun warming, lawns greening.
This means only one thing: repeated trips to the pharmacy to buy my wife more Claritin-D that costs something like $50 a box.
Early April in the Deep South also signals the annual spring invitational golf tournament hosted by a small, unassuming club in Augusta, Georgia.
It's called the Masters Tournament.
Aside from being the greatest event in sports (in this writer’s humble opinion), it embodies Southern charm and hospitality at its finest.
From top to bottom, in every respect, the tournament is marked by well-mannered grace and courteous informality unique to the sweet South.
Southern hospitality, of course, often begins with an invitation, and the Masters is no different.
This year's 94 "Tournament Invitees" each received an invitation in the mail cordially inviting them to participate in the 2017 Masters Tournament.
The card stock is thick, weighty, reminiscent of a proper Southern wedding invitation.
It even requests an R.S.V.P. I wonder if anyone has ever responded with a regret.
Southern hospitality usually includes libations. The Masters obliges with cold draft beer in healthy supply.
Take your pick of beer, light beer, or import, and part with only a few skins to enjoy your beverage, as concession prices are intentionally kept low.
Rare is the patron who's a little too tipsy, 'cause this isn’t our first party. In fact, if a Masters patron is a bit out-of-control, no doubt he's from somewhere like Indiana, unable to keep up like that college freshman you knew who always started too quickly out of the gates.
The food at the tournament is classically Southern. My 9-year-old daughter still raves about the pulled pork sandwich, and everyone raves about the pimento cheese.
SEC Banter does have a request: start serving Chick-fil-A sandwiches! They do have a fried chicken sandwich, but it's a far cry from the buttery, juicy chicken sandwich with pickles that Chick-fil-A has "mastered." (Sorry, couldn't help myself.)
Chick-fil-A at the Masters is a perfect fit and I call on the powers-that-be to make it happen, darn it.
Like any good Southern event, you better dress the part. The ladies at the Masters, in particular, are perhaps the best-dressed attendees of any sporting event outside the Kentucky Derby, which -- go figure -- is a Southern affair, as well.
Coincidence? You decide.
And here's a sartorial hint for the guy from Indiana: leave your 2003 Masters shirt back home in Fort Wayne. Sport your finest shirt with another golf logo and honcho some new Masters attire at the merchandise stores around the course.
Good luck limiting your spend to just a shirt!
We Southerners also love traditions. They define us, bind us, comfort us.
The Masters is awash in them. The green jacket. The champions dinner. The honorary first tee shots (we'll miss you dearly, Arnie). Butler Cabin. Amen Corner. Sunday roars.
As CBS bills it, the Masters is “a tradition unlike any other” and, if you can't attend in person, take it in through the best broadcast in television.
CBS has televised the tournament for 62-straight years. Do something for 62 years in-a-row and, odds are, you're pretty good at it.
CBS is no exception, as it produces the highest-quality television coverage I've ever seen, period.
Give me the sappy piano music composed by Dave Loggins, cousin to legendary singer-songwriter Kenny Loggins of Caddyshack and Top Gun fame. Give me "limited commercial interruptions." Give me good ol' Verne Lundquist at his familiar 16th hole tower.
And, best of all, give me the silky-smooth voice of Jim Nantz welcoming me, as a friend, to the broadcast with his signature "hello friends" refrain.
If there’s a critique of the CBS broadcast, however, it's that it lacks a Southern commentator. They've got Texans (not truly Southern), an Aussie (too far down south), and others, but no real Southerner.
SEC Banter will take one for the team and volunteer to join Masters coverage on CBS.
After all, I need some supplemental income to help pay for all of that Claritin-D.
Speaking of which, I'm off to the drug store again and asked my wife to stay near the phone in case the network calls.
"Honey," she said, "if the phone doesn't ring, it's CBS."
What kind of Southern hospitality is that?