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Augusta club: cool handshakes, alluring grounds

There are always those unkind enough to vigorously criticize the Masters golf tournament, unfolding here in Augusta, Ga., this weekend, as snobby and elitist.

That's not fair.

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It's true, of course, but not fair.

The Masters is delightfully snobby and elitist. It lifts snobbishness and elitism to new and laudable heights. It is one of life's grand experiences to show up at Augusta National Golf Course and be able to tell from the moment you arrive how unhappy everyone is that you are here and that they have to let you in.

You can see it in their eyes. The only good thing about your arrival is you will leave in a few days and then your likes won't besmirch the hallowed grounds for another full year.

Augusta is one of the most exclusive golf clubs in the world. Money can't buy entrance nor can celebrity. Basically, it's the good ol' boy network that can admit you if it wants to - and, basically, it doesn't want to.

But for a week in spring each year, riffraff get to come inside and stroll arguably the most beautiful golf course in the world to watch the top players in pro golf, like No. 1-ranked David Duval. The members despise the intrusion. When they shake hands, their teeth are clinched.

The perfect supercilious attitude

Everything about the Masters and its members exudes the basic premise: You don't belong here and we do, and you will never belong here and we always will.

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It's the perfect supercilious attitude. Who possibly could be offended?

It is their club and we are outsiders. We don't belong nor should we belong. We are not worthy. We know our place, which is as members of Costco. We have cards to prove it. They are to the manor born and we are to Wal-Mart born. It's a gulf that never can be crossed.

After all, why in the world shouldn't blue bloods who want to and can afford it separate themselves from us?

There are those who feel that there shouldn't be a class system in the United States or an aristocracy. Of course there should be and there is. Many rail against the perks of privilege - private jets, exquisite homes in Aspen, Colo., and Palm Beach, Fla., front-row seats at events long-ago sold out, and membership in Augusta National. Phooey on all you poor sports. For whatever reasons, these folks have earned all this, and we haven't. Congratulations to them.

At core, we get too worked up over democracy and take it to silly extreme. We babble about all of us being created equal. We are. It's just some go on and do better than we do. A few do a lot better. To the victor goes membership at Augusta National.

This club was born when legendary golfer Bobby Jones retired in 1930, having conquered all worlds in competitive golf. He was 28 years old. With time on his hands, he decided to build a golf course, this golf course, for his pleasure and that of a very, very, very few friends.

The first Masters was in 1934, although it wasn't called the Masters because Jones thought the name "too presumptuous." That's funny. Nothing could be too presumptuous here. Heck, this could be "The Masters, sponsored by Presumption."

A thinking golfer's course

The rich and privileged always have surrounded themselves with elegance and beauty. There's not a thing wrong with that. Augusta does not represent your tax dollars at play. It's their money. It's their toy. Keep your hands off.

Then, as the pro golfers find every year, the course with 80,000 plants representing 350 varieties uses its beauty to lead the players astray. Beauty has always done that to men. Especially dangerous are holes 11, 12, and 13, named Amen Corner, to suggest higher influence may be needed to negotiate the treachery. Jones once said, "There isn't a single hole out there that can't be birdied, if you just think. But there isn't one that can't be double-bogeyed if you ever stop thinking."

Augusta National members always are thinking - that they are the crme de la crme, and we are the ketchup. We will always have our noses pressed to the windows, and they will always be inside with their backs to us. As well they should.

But for all the delicious pompousness of this place, it's instructive to recall that between 1943 and 1945, cattle and turkeys were raised on the course to assist in the war effort.

Close your eyes and envision the mess.

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