Taste of the Masters feast brings a few morsels of Augusta National to your homebound gallery, and your patrons will eat it up
Certainly, things have changed over these past many months. You used to wear a mask to rob a bank; now, you wear one to make a deposit. Mall walkers used to have to dodge the shoppers; now, they are the shoppers. You used to open a fridge to see what might be for dinner; now, you open the box on the front door stoop.
For the purposes of this yarn, you used to go to golf tournaments. If it was April and you were a person of good fortune, influence and standing, you migrated south to the Emerald Kingdom and the Masters Tournament in Augusta Ga.
Occasionally, you even put away the credit card to venture outside the merchandise building, catch some golf and find some concessions. The unique eats, wrapped in green cellophane bags, were available at prices you could even handle with cash.
Imagine that … cash! Hahahahaha.
Certainly, things have changed. The Masters was winterized last year, not played until November, and now here it is again, ready for spring. Under the ever-clouded pandemic skies, the herd of 50,000 or so that normally attends must be drastically thinned. Men in Green have yet to reveal the magic attendance number for the April 8-11 event, but chances are – fortune, influence and standing aside – most of us won’t be allowed, as was the case last November.
Not to worry. It’s an excused absence. If you have it, you won’t lose your ticket-holding status. Your money is still good at 2604 Washington Road. Moreover, it’s good from outside the gates.
To accommodate the disenfranchised in November, Augusta National created a Masters meal plan, a stay-at-home version of the experience. You could be anchored to the berber rather than bentgrass, and you didn’t have to search for food tents in secluded places. Tents came to you in a Taste of the Masters package, lock, stock and caramel corn. All you needed was proof of patronage.
Well, as Charlotte Bronte, the 19th-century English novelist and poet, said, “Happiness quite unshared can scarcely be called happiness; it has no taste.” And we all know the “taste” she was talking about. During the second week of April, happiness is an egg-salad sandwich.
After all, if you can borrow your neighbor’s Sam’s card, why shouldn’t you be able to access some Masters grub? At the same time, in all honesty, Masters fare loses some of its cachet when it’s available to the masses. A lot of us thought Krispy Kreme doughnuts were special when they were available only in the Southeast. Now they’re more like pigeons: everywhere you look. Don’t get me wrong; doughnuts still taste better than pigeons. But Krispy Kremes have lost what your high school Latin teacher might call sui generis, or their uniqueness.
What has made Masters food especially desirable was exclusivity. It could be enjoyed only inside the gates, surrounded by pastels, soaking up Georgia sun and counting your blessings. Life never feels more tangible than on a warm April day at Augusta. All the senses are affected, including taste. Now, much of life takes place online.
Yes, part of the charm is friendly prices and brand anonymity. But otherwise, truth be told, when you remove an Augusta National ambiance, Masters fare is largely overhyped. Let’s face it: over the years, only Michelle Obama has had more flattering press. You would think that a Masters sandwich were like the tradition itself, “unlike any other.” Not quite.
After all, you don’t need a driver’s license to drive a riding mower, and you don’t need a sous chef to make egg salad. Take some eggs, some mayonnaise, some salt and pepper, a little paprika, a dash of mustard and … scoops, there it is! You’ve got egg salad.
Seriously, Kevin Harlan would fall asleep doing egg salad play-by-play.
So, for the uninitiated, let’s keep some perspective as we review the Taste of the Masters particulars. To begin with, the meal package carries a $150 price tag. Reasonable, to be sure. But for $149.99, you can order the iconic Masters light green cotton polo shirt with blue and white stripes. Depending on the size of your gallery, the Masters spread will last a day or two. The shirt will win friends and influence all summer. Just sayin’.
The constitution of egg salad or pimento cheese is not something with which to toy. Rest assured that the Taste of the Masters is shipped fresh in temperature-controlled packaging, delivered to your door before the cut on Friday, April 9.
Shipping prohibits pre-assembled sandwiches, so you’re on your own for the bread. Veteran Masters food consumers will tell you that is a non-issue. Score a bag of thin-sliced white bread, some small burger buns and you’re golden. Augusta National kitchens use the same stuff. As for what is included for the $150, let’s look beyond the yellow map and red flagstick, put on our food critic hat and give first-time tasters a genuine breakdown.
Here’s what you get, with some skinny:
1-pound tub of pimento cheese: Gotta be honest: I’ve never been a fan of the sandwich. Stuff pimento in an olive, garnish a martini, sign me up. But spread on white bread? It’s a culinary hate crime. Many do enjoy this mushy “caviar of the South” sandwich. But then again, many kids ate the art paste in kindergarten class.
1-pound tub of egg salad: If this were an NCAA Tournament, this would be the No. 1 seed. That said, this egg salad is no more exotic or rewarding than what good ol’ mom makes. Still, considering the demand, I can’t help but wonder whether chicken sweat shops in China are involved.
1½ pounds of pork barbecue: Highly underrated. This sandwich is served on buns in Augusta and serves the important role in cutting the egg-salad residue and providing dietary balance. The barbecue also is almost certain to require napkins, which are not provided. C’mon, Augusta. Amateur mistake.
8 bags of potato chips: The white Masters logo bag is the only thing separating these major-championship chips from their ordinary cousins. The individual bags are lunch-box size, which creates a slight conundrum. The Taste of the Masters professes to “serve 10-12 people.” Even Roberto De Vicenzo would recognize a discrepancy. However, if you sneak off with an empty, refill from house stock. You can probably re-gift.
6 chocolate chip cookies: The white chocolate macadamia nut is superior, but this is a solid cookie, soft in texture, large in diameter, generous with chocolate and calories. But again, six doesn’t go into 10-12, at least not in one piece. This could develop ill will among your patrons. What’s worse than a half-baked Masters?
6 bags of Georgia pecan caramel popcorn: Decadent stuff. No peanuts, no surprises, no sailor boy or puppy.… This is caramel corn purely for the sake of caramel corn, unfettered and unapologetic. In fact, a disenfranchised cookie-craver might be quelled with a bag of caramel popcorn, or vice versa. It’s not a seamless swap, so the best strategy would be to play the pandemic card and limit your “people” to six. Everyone has his/her snack and cookie, too.
25 Masters cups: In a perfect world, you could trade cups for cookies. These are just clear plastic cups with a Masters logo. Unless you’re disposing of them after every beverage, or using them for furniture, you should be set for several Masters to come.
Logo checkerboard serving paper: Not clear how many sheets are included. But before you get any ideas, it won’t be enough to wallpaper a room. Thinner than some of today’s newspapers, the “serving” label here seems to be a stretch. But it’s always good to have bling.
Pros: The Taste of the Masters is a terrific idea, a good excuse to have a Masters party and an inexpensive way to make it special.
Cons: The bag of jelly beans is missing some colors. Chicken sandwiches, ham-and-cheese on rye, and turkey-and-cheese on wheat also are available at a Masters. Also notable in its absence is the Georgia peach ice cream sandwich, and that hurts.
Final analysis: It’s not the same as being at the Masters, but it’s not the same as not being at the Masters. But for watching golf’s most romantic championship, you can’t beat a Taste of the Masters. And you know what they say: If you can’t beat ’em, eat ’em.
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