By – Robbie Vogel
At about 12:30 PM on Thursday, November 12th, I started to get an inkling that you truly can have too much of a good thing. By 9:00 PM, bloated beyond any hope of a reasonable night’s sleep, I was sure of it.
For the past several years, the Masters has produced an app unlike any other. For those not glued to their smartphones like this Millennial, let me explain. Every year, as April (or in this case, November) rolls around, the Masters unveils the next iteration of their digital coverage, which allows fans unprecedented access and viewership of this most hallowed tournament via smartphone, tablet and PC. Even as far back as 2015, the Masters has offered HD video from every hole on the golf course, which marked a monumental leap for a club and event that, until relatively recently, seemed determined to keep viewership of its first nine holes confined to on-site patrons.
Last year, the folks behind the Masters rocked the sports world with a space-age product that seemed to come straight from a golf junkie’s deepest fantasy. In addition to its leaderboard, shot tracker, and handful of specific-hole channels, Augusta National (in partnership with IBM) offered fans the chance to stream every single golf shot from the entire tournament.
Now, to most of you, this doesn’t come as a shock, because you remember it the way I remember the Christmas morning when I got my first bicycle. I came downstairs and that thing was standing in the dining room, and I most likely burst into happy kid tears right away. Offering near-live video of every single shot represented a stratospheric leap in golf coverage, and the Masters app is now widely hailed as the best companion app of any sports event in the world.
Well, I’m here to say that it’s too much.
Before you retort that no one’s forcing me to watch every shot from every player, or set up multiple screens to keep an eye on each channel, let me paint a picture. It’s 7:30 on Thursday morning, and I’m fully ready to consume our first Masters in 20 months. Following a painfully long weather delay, the tournament gloriously resumes. Time to fire up the Featured Groups coverage and…
WHAM. Golf explosion. Not only is the Featured Groups channel live, but the Amen Corner feed is too, since the November Masters forced a two-tee start. Shortly after that, the 5th and 6th hole channel comes online, as does the one for 15 and 16. In addition to those four, there’s My Group, a new feature in 2020 which seems to work like a fantasy football draft queue, where you chuck a bunch of players into a hopper and the algorithm spits out golf shot after golf shot with little in the way of context or round flow.
To top it off, the ESPN broadcast went live earlier than usual this year, and showed more golf than ever before, due to the late-season date and split-tee start. That’s a total of six different coverage options.
All of this combined to create the sensation of drinking from a firehose. Golf fans had waited so long to reacquaint themselves with the soothing sights, sounds, and rituals of Augusta National and the Masters. In an undoubtedly unfamiliar year, this event stood as a bastion of comfort, offering a few hours of intense competition against a hushed (even for Augusta standards) backdrop.
But now, with so much to choose from, I found myself overwhelmed. Everywhere I looked, players dropped hit-and-stick approach shots onto Augusta’s usually rock-hard greens. Laptop screen blended with television, while my phone urgently lit up, several golf-adjacent group texts demanding my attention as well. Plus, of course, there’s Twitter, the often insane but usually indispensable second-screen companion to a day of tournament golf. On a regular weekend, browsing the latest from @ANTIFAldo or @Lou_TireWorld while following golf on TV makes for the ideal viewing experience: leisurely and casual, echoing the pace of the sport itself. But not two hours into the 2020 Masters, I began to glaze over as the barrage of golf shots and green grass assaulted my senses.
Not to mention the timing aspect, or the creeping sense that the broadcast you’ve watched for years was maybe just a bit less live than you had thought. On one of the No Laying Up recap podcasts, Tron Carter alluded to this: “It just sucks, too, when you’re seeing stuff five minutes before on the live feeds on the internet. You’re trying to stay centered on the main telecast because that’s what everybody’s talking about and that’s where the action is, but then you’re seeing these little pops here and there.”
In a year where sports fans have seen long layoffs, truncated seasons, and other troubles, perhaps I shouldn’t be complaining. After all, Augusta is one of golf’s most treasured locations, and I absolutely celebrate their commitment to showcasing their club and the event they host. But sometimes, less is more.
On Friday afternoon, Phil Mickelson played an iron into the 16th green. After the third shot in his group, the camera lingered on the players and caddies as they made their way up the right side of the pond towards the putting surface. From its position high above the left side of the pond, the viewers were treated to a perspective usually only afforded to those seated in the “Patron Observation Stand.” As the group strolled along Redbud’s famed pond, the camera captured their reflections in the still water, the humans seeming to apparate through the trunks of the towering pines also mirrored in the dark glassy water.
I can’t remember if this came on Featured Group coverage or the 15th and 16th hole channel, but in my opinion, it should have made the main broadcast. Sure, they might have missed a shot or two of someone grinding to make the cut, but the trade-off is worth it, in my opinion.
As for that 9:00 PM thing I mentioned up top? Thursday night saw my wife and I driving back from a drive-through Christmas lights showcase (long story) and picking up takeout at the Cheesecake Factory. The chain is ridiculed for its menu that runs longer than some encyclopedia volumes, a truism that accurately reflects how golf fans are spoiled for choice with respect to their Masters channels. But as anyone who’s eaten at Cheesecake Factory knows, the menu’s girth only paves the way for the portion sizes. I hit a wall ¾ of the way through my gargantuan buffalo chicken sandwich and couldn’t even begin to think about sampling the S’mores cheesecake. Overstuffed with both stunning golf coverage and delicious guilt-inducing calories, the bloat hit me like one of Bryson’s wayward drives.
Is it possible to have too much of a good thing? When it comes to the Masters, it’s hard to exercise self-control. After all, Gluttony is considered a deadly sin, and I’m no saint.