Every year, the Augusta Chronicle newspaper does a splendid job analyzing every aspect -- and then some -- of the Masters Tournament. On the eve of this year's event, part of the admirable writing staff's comprehensive coverage related to the Par 3 Contest that began way back in 1960.
Sam Snead won that first event with a four-under par score of 23. The 1973 Masters champion Tommy Aaron, then an amateur and now one of two original competitors (Gary Player is the other) still teeing up, tied for last on 33 alongside then-honorary starter Fred McLeod.
Here's the thing, though:
"What I remember most is how hard everyone played," 1968 Masters champion Bob Goalby told the Chronicle. "We wanted that silver trophy. We wanted to win the thing."
Such ambition surely remains 55 years later. But only if you peer beneath a schmaltz-ridden, cutesie "competition" that has raced swiftly -- and not in a good way -- across the no-man's-land separating "hit" from "giggle."
Indeed, it has gone beyond even that extreme. This is no longer a laughing matter. As they might say here at Augusta National, it is a tradition unlike its original. Not even close, actually. What was once an appropriate and fun celebration of champions past and present now resembles a not particularly well organized parents day at your local kindergarten. It certainly doesn't look like anything one might closely associate with one of golf's four most important events.
"Don't get me wrong," concluded Goalby. "I think it's great how kids caddie and everything now. But because of that, the contest isn't as competitive as it once was."
Amidst what can still occasionally provide great entertainment -- the small and sloping greens combined with creative pin positions give the world's best ample opportunity to make birdies and, often enough, holes-in-one -- the Par 3 Contest has all but completely lost its way.
The problem, of course, is not the players. It's the caddies, an eclectic mix of "adorable" children, wives and other assorted family members and, God help us, celebrities, pseudo and otherwise.
If that boiler-suited mixture stuck to carrying the bags it wouldn't be so bad. But they don't. Oh no. They have to hit a shot, or hole-out from six inches. They have to wave to the crowd. They have to sign autographs. They just have to. It's a rule apparently, especially now that the event is televised live.
In that respect it is the poor commentators I feel sorry for. Can you imagine having to feign interest and involvement in this sorry excuse for fun and games? Whatever they get paid for the gig, they deserve every last penny.
It's a circus -- minus only the performing animals although a ringmaster cracking an occasional whip would not go amiss -- one that these days take an interminable time to complete. Instead of nipping round in under an hour or so, players can now be out there for almost three times that long.
Remember the "entertainment" I mentioned a couple of paragraphs back? Well, if you want to see any of that at the modern-day Par 3 you need two things: almost endless patience and an ability to stay awake while the little moppets skip around the greens wielding miniature putters as their fathers gaze on proudly.