AUGUSTA, Ga. -- If you hang around the main entrance gate to Augusta National GC this week, you will probably see a lot of children taking their first steps onto these hallowed grounds. The movement is part of an initiative by Masters Chairman Billy Payne, who announced just before Christmas--appropriately enough--that youngsters age 8 to 16 will be admitted free of charge on regular tournament days (Thursday through Sunday.) "We want to inspire the next generation of golfers now," said Payne. "We're serious about exposing youngsters to golf and the Masters."
There are restrictions, of course. Each child must be accompanied by an accredited patron. That is, a patron whose name is on the Masters list of applications and badge holders. If you lend your badge to your neighbor, for instance, your neighbor cannot bring a child in. But if you, an accredited badge holder, want to bring your neighbor's child in, you can do that. It doesn't matter if the kid is yours, only if the badge is yours.
This is a magnanimous gesture by Payne and his fellow green jackets, although it is not the first of its kind. At the British Open, any juvenile who is accompanied by a "responsible" adult is admitted free. The big difference--the huge difference--is that daily tickets are always on sale at British Open venues during the week of competition and thus are not part of family heirlooms and last wills and testaments. Masters badges are probably the toughest tickets in sports. But at least it's gotten easier for the next generation of pimento sandwich customers to get a taste of the season's first major.