(Note: This originally ran during the 2018 Masters.)
AUGUSTA, Ga. — You can take your Home Run Derby, Slam Dunk, Skills Competition and shove 'em. Sports' best ancillary showcase is the Par 3 Contest. Given the excitement and energy that surrounds the Wednesday tournament, one would be forgiven for confusing it as a major itself. Think that's hyperbole? After spending the early afternoon camping out at the scene, I assure you it's not. Here are eight reasons why the Masters' Par 3 Contest is the best non-event event in sports.
It's one of the most aesthetically pleasing amphitheaters in entertainment
Sitting to the right of the clubhouse, two ponds comprise the Par 3 Course's epicenter, surrounded by trees, shrubs, flowers, pine straw, and any other nature item Bob Ross ever painted, with white Augusta National cabins hovering on the horizon. Oh, and nine of the greenest, finely-manicured par 3 holes on the planet. When dotted with the patrons, it's a confluence of color so spectacular they can't be replicated on a palette.
The landscape sits in a basin, allowing sound to reverberate throughout the property. Not only does the noise tell a story—"Is that coming from No. 1? Someone must've backed it up just past the pin"—it gives the scenery a matching soundtrack. They're not like the Sunday Augusta roars; those are fierce and piercing and shaking. These are celebratory hurrahs, and though they're not as meaningful, they can be just as memorable.
It's not really a contest, and the patrons are fine with it
It's the dirty, not-so secret of the competition. As many players allow their wives, children and caddies to hit shots for them, they are "disqualified" from the tournament. (Given the Par 3 "curse"—no one has ever won the contest and green jacket in the same year—the players don't mind the DQ.) It does not detract from the contest one iota. In fact, it enhances the experience, because...
The kids are just as popular, if not more so, than the players
On the sixth hole, Danny Willett's child ran to the green, picked up his ball, waddled over to the cup, dropped it in...and the patrons responded like they had just witnessed an ace. The Par 3 Contest's "Family Day" component was a concession to the players, yet its addition has become part of the event's indelible fabric. It shows a softer side to the players, and the sight of a player's kids running about the venue adds to the picnic-like atmosphere that permeates the contest.
There's not a bad seat in the house
No matter where you're situated on the property, you can see at least two holes, often three or four. Quite the juxtaposition to a real tournament, where you can often see just one hole, and often only part of it. And because of the aforementioned sound, you don't feel like you're missing out; if something happens, you know about it instantly.
If this is your thing, players sign liberally throughout the Par 3 Contest, obliging anyone hoisting a Masters flag in their direction. In 90 minutes of observation, at least one player from each group took time for autographs. Especially true if the autograph seeker was a child.
It's a reminder these guys are really, really good
The courses professionals play are nothing like your local joint. However, while this is arguably the best par 3 course in the world, the configuration—at least in terms of difficulty and distance—is not dissimilar to something the Average Joe can play. A setup revealing the ridiculous talent of the field. In the first five groups that went through No. 8—120 yards downhill to a tiny green surrounded by water—six players stuck it within two feet. At 2016's event (last year was rained out), nine aces were recorded. And though the course weighs in at just over 1,000 yards, that the winner usually comes in at six under (Jimmy Walker won in 2016 at eight under) is absurd.
But most importantly...
It's a chance to see past stars in a "competitive" environment
Retired athletes are mostly rendered as ceremonial figures. Not the case on Wednesday at Augusta National. True, other sports have platforms that showcase former stars. But if you've watched a Major League Baseball Old-Timers' Day or the NBA Celebrity Game (often featuring Hall of Famers), you know the product is tough to watch, and in a way, a disservice to their legacy. At the Par 3 Contest, elder Masters champs hold their own against today's young guns, with one or two finishing among the leaders.
And in a tournament where the past always has a seat in the present, patrons—if only for a few hours—get to turn back the clock and enjoy Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Tom Watson and other former green jacket winners inside the ropes again.