Jonathan Littman, in his entertaining 2011 tome, “Crashing the Masters,” took a different tone than most Augusta worshippers when he painted a vivid portrait of the glories as well as the shady underbelly of an event about which most followers speak in hushed, reverent tones.
In addition to effusive praise for “the majestic green-rimmed scoreboard” and other effects that made Augusta “more perfect than I imagined,” Littman took on controversies about which viewers will never hear Nantz speak. Incidents like the “popular Southern pastime [of] guns and violence” that led to the 1976 “accident” in which three African-Americans were shot for fishing in Rae’s Creek.
“A 12 year-old and two 19-year-olds who happened to be black were shot on the golf course,” Littman wrote. “That’s a pretty big deal and part of the legacy of what they have to live with.”
Costas is bound to come under heavy fire for his Masters remarks — as he did when he spoke out about guns in December — and we’ll never know if he would actually discuss the issues he ripped Nantz for ignoring. But he contended he would not last long if he did get the chance to work the Masters because of the strict policies of the green jackets who rule with an iron fist. (Who can forget that Gary McCord was summarily dismissed from CBS’ coverage after saying “bikini wax” gave Augusta’s greens their slickness? And Jack Whitaker received his pink slip after referring to a group of “patrons” as a “mob.”)
Costas conceded the beauty of the course, which he has played, and called club chair Billy Payne a friend. But he was adamant that listeners not forget about the club’s checkered past.
“What no CBS commentator has ever alluded to, even in passing, even during a rain delay, even when there was time to do so, is Augusta’s history of racism and sexism,” Costas said. “Even when people were protesting just outside the grounds — forget about taking a side — never acknowledging it. So not only will I never work the Masters because I’m not at CBS, but I’d have to say something and then I would be ejected.”
Costas said he was not talking about “forcing this issue down everyone’s throats while Tiger Woods is lining up a birdie putt.” He looked forward to a day, however, that will never come, when “someone” would have “the guts” to tell it like it was.
“Broadcaster, executive, somebody should have said to someone at Augusta, ‘Look this is an issue. And this is not Nightline or Meet The Press, we understand that. But this is an issue,’” Costas said. “‘And it’s an elephant in the room. And we’re going to address it as concisely as we can but we’re going to address it so that our heads are not in the collective sand trap.’”
For sure, Costas will get no argument from this typist — probably one of the few covering the event (however tangentially) on golf’s most prestigious stage not to get all choked up with sentimentality about the Masters.
There’s no denying that Augusta is a spectacular venue and the players want to lift the sterling silver replica of the clubhouse probably more than any other trophy in any other PGA Tour competition.
But, while CBS, Nantz, and that treacly piano tinkling have elevated it to mythical status, the Masters is, after all, just a golf tournament — and one with a sketchy history unlike many others.