Line in the Sand: Should the RBC Heritage have more or less golf?
Author: Barry Kaufman & Courtney Hampson
With all due respect to the many professional golfers who may be reading this—to the years of dedication they have poured into their craft, to the mental toughness and stamina it takes to give so much of themselves in achieving greatness, and to the sacrifices they have made in pursuit of their place among the sport’s elite—you guys are really missing out on an awesome party with that silly game you’re playing over there while we’re all over here day drinking.
Yes, this month Courtney and I have chosen to dissect exactly what makes the RBC Heritage so great. Courtney has chosen to champion the athleticism on display during the actual golf portion of the week, because she is just terrific at missing the point. I, for my part, will extol the many virtues of the RBC Heritage’s place as the greatest party on earth. I know—hard to believe I wound up on the fun side of the argument once again.
Let’s begin with actual golf, a sport that began among the rolling glens and heathers and lochs and assorted made-up geographical terms of the Scottish Highlands. Specifically, let’s begin with how little golf and the concept of fun have in common with one another. When you’re having fun, you’re generally not worried about how loud you’re being. In golf, the announcers have to keep extra quiet for fear of waking anyone up. When you’re having fun, you rarely ever get so honked off you bend a very expensive 5-wood over your knee while peppering the air with obscenities. In golf, this action occurs once per round minimum. It’s actually a requirement on some courses.
I’m not saying golf is boring, per se; I’m just saying that it serves as the complete antithetical to everything that defines the concept of fun. You walk around putting a ball into a hole—so really, you’re just tidying up an entire park. That’s not fun; that’s mandatory community service.
I’ll put it like this. Like all of you, I grew up in Ohio. Specifically, I grew up in Muirfield, which you might know as the site of the annual Memorial Tournament (if not, congratulations on having your priorities in the right place). I was lucky enough to go to the Memorial a few times as a little shaver, and the differences between Ohio’s stoic celebration of the horrendously boring side of golf and our very own vaguely-golf-themed cocktail party could not be any starker. I can recall many times walking among packs of completely sober golf enthusiasts, seeing their vaguely lifelike faces staring across the greens and feeling like I was missing something.
“Did you see him hit the ball?” they would whisper, keeping their voices low.
“Yes. He sure hit that ball.” Others would respond, confirming that a ball had been hit.
This would go on for days.
Compare this to The RBC Heritage presented by Boeing and enabled by vodka, where one of my favorite memories involves… uh… hmmm.
Okay, so the memories are a little fuzzy. I definitely remember either seeing someone on someone else’s shoulders or getting up on someone else’s shoulders, but that can’t be right, unless they were a very sturdy human being.
The point is, I distinctly remember it being a blast. I’m just not really sure if I wound up watching any of the golf. And I don’t think anyone else was watching it either. They were too busy having a good time.
One memory sticks out, though. It was a T-shirt, worn by more than a few of my fellow revelers. It read, quite poetically, “Who invited these players to our party?”
Two years ago, at the Masters Tournament, a member of Augusta National approached me. “Excuse me ma’am, do you mind if I ask you a question?” “Of course,” I replied, immediately jumping to the conclusion that I was about to receive my invitation to become the second female member at Augusta National, or at the very least be offered free tickets to the tournament for the rest of my life. Alas, I was wrong.
“How do you like that ice cream sandwich,” he asked.
“Um, it’s great,” I stammered, hiding my disappointment with a blushing smile.
“Oh good,” he said. “The peach ice cream sandwiches are new this year and I am just doing an informal poll.”
“Really sir, and you picked me? Is there anything else I could help you with? Maybe check out the clubhouse for you? Provide some interior design suggestions? Or, perhaps we could chat green polyester?” Actually, I didn’t say any of that; instead, I smiled, and thanked him and thought, now that is impressive. The members (the members!) at Augusta think about every detail right down to the ice cream sandwiches.
I wasn’t necessarily surprised. Everything they do at Augusta is top notch. Even the plastic cups—white for imported beers, and green for domestic (or is it the other way around? Doesn’t matter.)—are nice. In fact, they are the only plastic cups that grace my cupboard.
I’ve had some pretty memorable moments at the Masters. Three years ago, I sweet-talked Phil Mickelson’s caddy “Bones” into taking a picture with me. Last year I literally blew out my flip flop, and sat under a tree for an hour while my friend ran (just four miles round trip) back to the car to get my sneakers. It was two years ago, while watching the “water skip” tradition at 16 that I slipped my sandals off to stretch my feet, and within seconds I was instructed to put my shoes back on “ma’am.”
At the Masters, it is easy to get swept up in the pageantry and tradition of things. The green jackets, the blooming azaleas, the elusive Butler Cabin, undulating hills, real restrooms, and grass so green and soft you can hardly believe it is real—an experience so vivid and majestic, that you almost forget there is golf.
But there is golf. Golf you actually pay attention to. Golf that makes the crowd go silent and then ever so subtly begin to buzz with excitement. Golf that elicits whispers over whoops. Golf that, even on TV, sends chills up my spine on Masters’ Sunday, as the final group walks the eighteenth fairway.
And it is the rich experience of the Masters that makes the juxtaposition that is the Heritage so hard for me to swallow. I don’t like drunk people. Or rich teenagers in Lily Pulitzer dresses. Or port-o-johns. And the Heritage is chock full of all three.
It is unfortunate really. I’ve seen people vomit, urinate in public, and stumble while mumbling incoherently in the middle of the day. And I have certainly seen people without shoes. More important, I cannot pinpoint a golf-related Heritage moment that stands out for me. I can remember being in a port-a-john and texting with my (then) boss who was giving me his updated beer count. I can remember getting caught in the pouring rain while wearing white pants. I can remember missing the last shuttle and having to walk three miles back to my car, which was somewhere in the middle of Sea Pines. I remember my dismay the first time I came to the intersection of holes, 10, 11, 15, and 16 and wondered why there was a prom in the middle of a golf tournament.
But, the Heritage is also the veritable who’s who of Beaufort County. Many of my corporate partners from my day job are sponsors, so I (gratefully) always receive tickets, and hospitality badges. I go. You know, because it is work. And for me, work means tourism, and selling the destination that is the Lowcountry of South Carolina. And so I almost must ask, is this our best foot forward?