It is always special when the Masters falls on Holy Week. The sense of beauty and rebirth on the grounds of Augusta National cannot be overstated, even in a year when the azaleas and dogwoods have long-since bloomed and turned from red and white to summer green.
For those so inclined, the words of the season seem wholly appropriate: "Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day." -- 2 Corinthians 4:16
For others, the words of Rory McIlroy sum up the experience as well as any: "Every year it's an honor to come back," McIlroy said at his pre-tournament press conference. "Every time you come back to this place you get excited. You just look around, and look out the back of the clubhouse and you see the first tee, ninth green, eighteenth green, down to the second, down to the seventh, you can almost see down to fifteen. It's just special."
Players, patrons, caddies and coaches: it is special for everyone. Tiger Woods called Magnolia Lane, "The perfect entrance to a golf club," and Gary Player said of the course, "It is as close to golf perfection as you will find."
Patrons who round the clubhouse and see the vista from the oak tree for the first time are always awed, expressing themselves the same ways year after year: "Wow, this is unbelievable -- How did they get it so lush? -- TV doesn't do this justice."
Indeed, no matter how crystal clear your HD set makes it, or how breathless the network commentators sound while piling on the adjectives, trust me: the place is more spectacular still. In short, there is no other golf course like it anywhere on earth.
Which is exactly why those who see Augusta National and the Masters should never try to replicate it.
A superintendent (who chooses to remain nameless) told me recently that he dreads the Masters like flu season, not because he doesn't enjoy the beauty and drama of the week, but because his membership always comes back wondering why he can't make their course look more like Augusta National.
"I get guys saying, 'Why can't we get our greens like that?' or 'Why can't we get our fairways to look that way?'" the superintendent said with a shake of the head. "I try to explain to them that even if we had an unlimited budget, which we don't, our course wasn't built on a nursery, wasn't designed by the greatest amateur golfer of all time, and isn't closed all summer."
That's just the start of it. Most courses don't have sub-air irrigation systems that can run hot and cold air and water beneath their root systems to control ground temperatures; most don't have the equipment or manpower to triplex mow every fairway in only one direction (from the green back to the tee); most don't have every cutting edge agronomic inventor and expert clamoring to give them products for nothing more than bragging rights; and most don't have 80 years of institutional history at their fingertips.
There have been plenty of people who have tried to replicate the Augusta experience. The late Hall Thompson, an Augusta National member, tried to build his version of the club in his hometown of Birmingham, Ala. And while Shoal Creek is a fine course, worthy of hosting a memorable PGA Championship, no one weeps at its beauty. Books have not been written about it, and artists are not lining up to paint sunrise scenes from its fairways.
Augusta National and the Masters weren't always what we know today. During World War II, the course was closed and cattle and sheep grazed on the fairways. In the post-war era, Rae's Creek looked like a craggy ditch, and the greens were downright slow. School teachers put shoe boxes full of Masters tickets on their desks, and notes were sent home encouraging every citizen of Augusta to come out and support the tournament.
It is easy to get caught up in the beauty and emotion of the Masters. And it is natural to want to take those feelings home. But Augusta National has perfected the art of continuous improvement with countless hours of work and untold millions of dollars going into making this one-week experience unlike anything else in sports.
The best thing we can do is enjoy it for what it is. And let the memories of this Easter Sunday hold us over until next year.