I have some friends in the Augusta area who are devotees of The Masters golf tournament. They are pretty excited that a player by the name of Eldrick is going to play in their upcoming tourney.
Eldrick is quite a player. I call him Eldrick because that’s what they called him the first time they introduced him at The Masters. I was standing there when they said it.
Most people know him as Tiger. Eldrick "Tiger" Woods.
One reason Tiger will play at The Masters is because they have some very well-enforced rules. You see, there are no tickets to The Masters, only badges. There are folks who like to show how many years they’ve been attending because many wear hats decorated with previous years’ badges.
You must have a badge to get in. If you do not have a badge when you go out, there is a pretty good chance you will not be returning ... ever.
They have a rule against bringing a cell phone onto the grounds of Augusta National Golf Club, where The Masters is played. They don’t frisk you; this is a place of ladies and gentlemen, and you should act accordingly.
In a recent year, some knucklehead who either couldn’t read or was stupid brought in his phone and left it in the ringing mode. When it rang, one of the tournament officials took his badge, and he was escorted to the gate.
According to the story, the badges actually belonged to someone else and they lost them forever. Bet that friendship went sour.
Masters badges, aside from decorating hats, are coveted items. They have been the subject of disputes in contested divorces. There is a closed waiting list of four to 10 years to get one.
Holding a badge can be quite profitable. The badge for all the rounds costs $200. In a good year, it can bring $2,000 to $3,500 on the scalper market. Think about this: A widow in Augusta can rent her house for the week and throw in her four Masters badges and make a pretty tidy sum.
Nobody knows for certain how many folks have badges. It’s a secret that’s as closely held as the formula for Coca-Cola. But folks in Augusta love their "tune-a-mint," as they pronounce it in their rolling Southern style. Folks will come and they will roll out the red carpet for their guests from all over the world.
It puts Augusta in a good spotlight for the better part of a week. Beautiful color pictures of one of the most beautiful places on earth are transmitted around the globe. That fabled green jacket is a trophy like no other and the town treasures every moment of Masters week.
So, if someone wants to say something really smart to Tiger, I wouldn’t suggest yelling it out while he is standing at the tee or the putting green. There’s a pretty good chance that some course marshal would yank your badge and send you walking down Washington Road on the wrong side of the fence.
Harris Blackwood is a columnist for The Times. His column appears every week in Sunday Life.