The par-3 contest is out at the spectator-free Masters in November.
ESPN’s “College GameDay” is in.
Augusta National announced Tuesday more changes to a Masters tournament that will be unlike any of the previous 83. The most unusual of all is ESPN’s popular college football pregame show taking place on a stage that overlooks Ike’s Pond and the ninth green of the par-3 course.
“When exploring ways to showcase a fall Masters, we were drawn to the concept of hosting ‘College GameDay’ at Augusta National to introduce the tournament to a new audience and provide even more anticipation and excitement to the event,” Augusta National Chairman Fred Ridley said.
It helps that ESPN is a broadcast partner of the Masters and will televise the opening two rounds. The coverage typically begins on Wednesday with the par-3 contest, a showcase of past champions and current players before an enormous gallery that rarely lacks for big roars, such as the time Jack Nicklaus had his grandson play a shot and he made a hole-in-one.
The par-3 contest dates to 1960 and is a big part of the tradition at Augusta National, mainly the jinx that no one has won the par-3 and the Masters in the same year.
“We know that experience could not have been replicated without guests and patrons at Augusta National,” Ridley said.
The pandemic shut down golf on March 13 and led Augusta National to postpone the Masters until Nov. 12-15, without spectators for the first time.
Because of the fall date and shorter daylight hours, the club said the weekday rounds would be played in threesomes off the first and 10th tees in morning and afternoon waves. The field remains set at 96 players who were eligible in April. Those who have qualified since then, such as PGA Tour winners Daniel Berger and Jim Herman, will not play until 2021.
“College GameDay” will certainly get a venue unlike any other. It typically travels to a college stadium that features a marquee matchup – Alabama has hosted it the most times since it began in 1993 – though it has gone off campus.
The most notable was in 2017 when “College GameDay” was held in Times Square. It also was held on the USS San Diego in 2012 as part of a salute to veterans.
ESPN said host Rece Davis will be joined at Augusta National by analyst Kirk Herbstreit, former Heisman Trophy winner Desmond Howard and former Georgia star David Pollack, among others.
“Any time ‘College GameDay’ travels to a new destination it’s special, and the opportunity to be on the grounds of Augusta National Golf Club during the Masters is extraordinary,” said Jimmy Pitaro, chairman of ESPN and Sports Content.
Because of the pandemic, no spectators have been on site for the program. For the Masters, players are allowed to bring a spouse or family member, while Augusta National members also are allowed on the grounds.
The ESPN show on Saturday will be from 9 a.m. to noon, ending an hour before the CBS coverage starts of the third round.
One tradition won’t change. The Masters said six-time champion Jack Nicklaus and three-time champion Gary Player will hit the ceremonial first tee shot. Starting times have not been announced, but they will be early.
The club already has announced that those who bought tickets through Augusta National will be able to shop for merchandise online (two purchases). It also has a free email newsletter from the Masters that it will send to all fans.
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