FIRE PIT COLLECTIVE
Masters 2023: I'm sorry, but I hate the Masters Par 3 Contest
Editor's Note: This article first appeared in Fire Pit Collective, a Golf Digest content partner.
AUGUSTA, Ga.—I’m sorry, but someone has to say it: I hate the Masters par-3 contest. What used to be a supercool skills competition has turned into a fatuous combination of Romper Room and a Pantene commercial. Hey, I like cute kids too, but get them the heck off the golf course! And let’s save the preening WAGs for the 18th hole on Sunday. The worst televised golf of the year is now, incredibly, Wednesday afternoon of the Masters. For the love of Hogan, please make it stop!
I promise I’m not a curmudgeon. When the neighborhood dogs see me they wag their tails, and old ladies cross the street to chit chat. But watching Thomas Pieters leave a tee box on Wednesday, carrying two small children with a pacifier in his mouth…that’s the last straw. Every decision at the Masters is made so as not to roust the ghost of Clifford Roberts. Note that the club’s imperious co-founder had three wives but zero children. There is no chance Roberts would be pleased with toddlers throwing tantrums during the par-3 contest. I feel ya, Cliff.
At my first Masters, in 1994, the par-3 was still cool. It had a casual vibe, but the players treated it like a relevant part of their pre-tournament preparation as they dialed in their wedge games. Their control of those spinny golf balls was mesmerizing. Sure, a few yuks were had along the way, but the event was conducted with the same dignity as the rest of the week.
Things began to go off the rails in the early 2000s, which a cynic would note was exactly when the club went through a messy and extremely public controversy due to its all-male membership. What could possibly be a better way to win hearts and minds than providing a family-friendly playground for adorable kids and fetching caddies with immaculately coifed hair? The par-3 was televised for the first time in 2008 by ESPN, the second Masters of Billy Payne’s tenure as chairman. Payne was a marketer at heart but would get pounded annually in the press for his steadfast refusal to admit a female member. (He finally relented in 2012.) Putting the par-3 contest on TV was a clever bit of misdirection, and that’s when the arms race of cuteness really began. Wives began to employ hair-and-makeup technicians, and great thought was given to the matching footwear for every child. Inexorably, kids and caddies began hitting tee shots and putts. Anyone who tried to take the tournament-within-the-tournament seriously was branded a killjoy.
I fully understand that most of the players love what the par-3 has become. It produces treasured memories and photos that last a lifetime, and as a doting father of four, I’m happy for them. I am! In this era where growing-the-game has become golf’s lodestone, the family vibe of the par-3 certainly offers a welcoming and inclusive message to new golfers. But at what cost to the rest of us?
On Wednesday, under a bluebird sky, I walked around the par-3 again, determined to have an open mind. The feeling in the air was festive. The massive galleries cheered supportively every time a toddler whiffed with a plastic club, and laughter ripped through the crowd anytime a sibling shoved another. All the matching green-and-white Air Jordans certainly looked clean. Kelly Rahm, with a set of clubs on her back and a baby strapped to her chest, probably deserves a medal. Around every green there were whispers of approval about Jena Sims’s hair, just as she hoped. Plenty of good shots were played, including four aces, with Seamus Power going back-to-back on the 8th and 9th holes. Incredible! All the moms and dads between the ropes couldn’t have looked happier or prouder. It was heartwarming stuff, and I was overwhelmed with one feeling: Still hate it.