In the 1989 classic film, "Field of Dreams," one of the old baseball players gazes out on that magical baseball diamond in the middle of corn fields and asks, "Is this heaven?" Kevin Costner replies simply, "It's Iowa."
If you've had the privilege of setting foot on Augusta National's hallowed grounds, you may have pondered the same question, notwithstanding that Iowa and Augusta have little, if anything, in common.
Yes, Masters week is here. With its timeless traditions, sweet Southern grace, and gentlemanly yet fierce competition, the tournament is nothing less than the greatest event in the sporting world.
An exaggeration? I respectfully disagree. Where else do so many familiar traditions - the green jacket, Amen Corner, Butler cabin, the champions dinner, the par three tournament, caddies decked out in white coveralls - combine with a deceptively intense contest that tests the game's elite? It's Masters week, and it's time to take it all in, both from the perspective of attending the tournament and from enjoying it in the comfort of your home courtesy of the CBS broadcast, which is phenomenal.
Part of Augusta National's appeal is its beauty. Up close and personal, the golf course - which represents the American ideal in golf - is nothing short of breathtaking. Though television cameras admirably capture the National's signature flowers, in person they're even more spectacular. But this year's early spring has already blossomed azaleas throughout Georgia. Will the customary azaleas be absent from this year's tournament? You know the answer. Those azaleas will somehow be in full splendor. After all, it's the Masters.
Those fortunate enough to attend the tournament are called "patrons." You see, "fans" go to PGA stops in places like Phoenix and Ohio. Only patrons enter the gates of Augusta. Why? It's the Masters.
And the patrons are surprisingly polite. If you plunk down folding chairs at your favorite location at 8:30 a.m. (behind the No. 2 green is an underrated spot), you can walk the entire course and four hours later, your chairs are right where you left them - unoccupied.
Attending the Masters brings out the best in people.
Everyone knows they're taking part in something special, and an unwritten but well understood code dictates that you don't infringe on another's Masters experience.
Politeness. It's the Masters.
What would the Masters be without the food?
Like the best things in life, simplicity is the key. Grab a chicken salad sandwich in those green plastic wrappers, some chips, and a cold draft beer. Total price? Around $6.50. They could charge twice that and everyone would pony up, but Augusta National doesn't. It's the Masters.
When you're done with your grub, dispose of your trash properly. But you won't find anything marked "trash." That would be unbecoming of a tournament this worthy. Instead, the simple green bags throughout the course are labeled "Please." It's the Masters.
The souvenir shops - wait, that sounds too generic - the gift pavilions. There's something hypnotic about that Masters logo that makes you want to buy whatever it's affixed upon.
Do you really need that clock with the Masters logo in the middle?
Will it truly look good in your kitchen?
The Masters gear is admittedly hard to resist.
Regardless of how many different colors of Masters shirts you own, you want another one, and you'll probably buy it. Why? It's the Masters.
Rookie patrons are easy to spot. They walk around with a high stack of empty beer cups to take back to Chicago or wherever, two shopping bags loaded with who knows what from the gift pavilions (a Masters clock for the kitchen is in there somewhere), and overjoyed facial expressions reminiscent of a young child on Christmas morning.
Actually, everyone has that look on their faces. It's the Masters.
The good news for those of us who can't make it to the tournament is that CBS does a superb job of bringing the Masters to us. How good is it to sit back on Masters Sunday and watch what transpires on the back nine?
If given the choice between a Sunday tournament badge and my couch with a fridge full of cold pops, I'll take the latter.
CBS' Masters broadcast approaches perfection. The softly strumming guitar and background music, the beautiful shots of Rae's Creek and the Hogan Bridge, and limited commercial interruptions. CBS follows Augusta National's lead with the simpler-is-better theme: absent are fancy TV graphics, on-course reporters, and gimmicky features like the "shot tracker."
The CBS crew delivers pure golf with the familiar voices of Ian Baker Finch stationed at Amen Corner, David Feherty at Hole 15, Verne Lundquist at Hole 16 ("Oh my goodness!"), and of course, Jim Nantz anchoring the coverage from the tower at the finishing hole.
The CBS announcers consciously don't say too much, instead letting the drama unfold against the pristine Augusta National backdrop.
Jim Nantz's love for the place is palpable. He's fond of calling the Masters "a tradition unlike any other," and he's right, but his knack for delivering quintessential Masters moments has made him a large part of that tradition. CBS and Jim Nantz. It's the Masters.
Masters week is here. An event that transcends sports. You don't need to be a golf fan to enjoy it. You don't even need to be a sports fan. An appreciation for life and recognizing you're seeing something special is all that's required.
Is this heaven? Close. It's the Masters.