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Hayden Bixby

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Easter at Amen Corner

Posted: 04/ 8/2012 4:57 pm

I was in Augusta, Ga., this weekend, and Easter took second place only to The Masters in people's friendly greetings and small talk. I was, admittedly, in town because of the tournament, but I didn't attend -- I was merely accompanying my partner, Greg, on his bucket-list adventure.

As the tag-along, I filled my days by the pool in a quiet and leisurely fashion, reading whatever I could get my hands on. Most of the time that meant bonding with my Kindle, but some of the local print material got me thinking about the complicated nature of tradition.

Consider this, from the Augusta National Golf Club's Spectator Guide, quoting the 1949 "Spectator Suggestions" by Robert Tyre Jones Jr:

In golf, customs of etiquette and decorum are just as important as rules governing play. It is appropriate for spectators to applaud successful strokes in proportion to difficulty but excessive demonstrations by a player or his partisans are not proper.

These customs of decorum are not limited to when, how and at what volume one may express fan-feedback. They extend, too, to determining dress code, forbidding cell phones and even price-fixing pimiento sandwiches. As restrictive as these rules are, everyone attending the Masters seems to revel in them -- and even I find them charming in their own way.

But maybe only for one weekend.

I'm not the first to note that these traditions are built on a history of exclusivity and that the work required to maintain such a lovely setting is done primarily by those who would never be considered for membership. Even my cab driver notes that there are areas near the course that he considers off-limits because of the "panhandlers and crack addicts." He calls these the "weird parts of town," but I'm fairly certain he's using that phrase as a euphemism for "ghettos" or "slums."

Consider, too, The Augusta Chronicle -- in publication since 1785 and clearly a tradition of its own. On its Sunday Opinion page, it defines itself as "a Christian-owned newspaper that makes no bones about an unshakable belief in God and His restorative grace and ultimate forgiveness through the death and resurrection of His son, Jesus Christ."

I usually like my news-carriers to hold the First Amendment as the primary "core conviction" (it's #7 on this list), but I appreciate the forthrightness of the bias.

The editorial staff goes on to proclaim the following as its second core principle -- "that the U.S. Constitution is still the law of the land, as irrelevant and contorted as it has become these days."

Much of the remainder of the items go on to decry the government's limitation of our personal freedoms, declaring that "the relationship between freedom and government is a zero-sum game," and targeting, in particular, social programs that assist the disadvantaged.

Since the paper seems to call for a strict reading of both the Bible and the Constitution, I'm having a hard time following its logic in these three columns of text. One might think the editors would endorse the "restorative grace" and compassion Jesus advocated, but that approach instead is accused of "entic[ing] dependence and bitterness " and resulting in a "culture of victimization and helplessness."

Yes, I'm conflating the two publications here, but the collective message seems to be that, in Augusta, we like the heavy-handed rules that maintain immaculate grounds and keep the corporate-sponsored golf weekenders coming (the number of private jets parked at the local airstrips is staggering, by the way), but we don't like the government-imposed attempts to care for society's most needy and most at-risk.

As an admitted outsider, to both this area of the world and this way of thinking, I confess that it's difficult to fully appreciate the graciousness of tradition when it is in such proximity to economic inequality and neglect.

It's springtime, the azaleas are in bloom, and it might be time to make some unsanctioned noise in Amen Corner.