Ready for another weekend of highlights from the best course in golf?

Well, get caught up first. Because if you’re just tuning in now, Augusta National got started without you.

Even before the Masters Tournament began on Thursday, and well before all the clutch shots, big putts, momentum shifts and memorable moments we’ll get this weekend, the revered course in Georgia was already in the spotlight – and for something that might define its 2019 season more than its celebrated tournament will.

Last Saturday, the course hosted the final round of the Augusta National Women’s Amateur Championship. The 54-hole event, won by Jennifer Kupcho, had its first two rounds at Champions Retreat Golf Club in the nearby town of Evans, and then the final round at the same course the world’s best golfers are currently playing to try to win the sport’s marquee event.

This was a big deal. Because as recently as a few years ago, there was no way anyone would dream this would be put together.

Or that Augusta would let it happen.

The Masters is special because of Augusta National. And Augusta National is special because it’s the longstanding home of the tradition and decorum that is a prevailing theme in golf. Augusta is golf’s version of an Amish commune, and arriving at Magnolia Lane is like going through a time warp. There are no electronics permitted. There’s no running. No booing. No beer, no coolers. No taking someone’s better seat if that person gets up and leaves. And anyone who violates those rules is asked to leave, and not return.

Augusta can do this because it delivers on its own end. The course is gorgeous. The conditions are immaculate and the tournament is impeccably run. There’s both a sense of nail-biting pressure and a comforting feel of serenity, and many professional golfers have said that

Jennifer Kupcho celebrates after sinking a putt on the 18th hole to win the Augusta National Women’s Amateur golf tournament Saturday in Augusta, Georgia. AP photo

Augusta encapsulates how golf should be.

But the downside to being the home of golf’s tradition is that Augusta, in the past, was the most staunch supporter of the sport’s past, in which women and minorities were discouraged, if not outright barred, from playing.

For its first 57 years, Augusta was all-white, and for 79 years it was all-male, becoming a symbol of discrimination in the process. The controversy reached a head in 2002, when chairman Hootie Johnson steadfastly defended the club’s exclusionary stance on women against opposition from National Council of Women’s Organizers chairwoman Martha Burk.

The controversy subsided, but still took a decade for Augusta to get its first female members. Condoleeza Rice and Darla Moore broke that barrier in 2012, but there was still another barrier to break.

Women were officially allowed at Augusta. But were they welcome?

Now, because of last Saturday, there’s no question. Augusta very publicly opened its doors to the future stars of women’s professional golf and allowed them to play in a competitive setting. It was on television. After years of watching thousands of men throughout the years, fans could see women tackle Amen Corner, the pine straw and Augusta’s famous undulating, lightning-fast greens.

It’s big for women’s golf, which has gotten steadily bigger but still has room to grow. The majors aren’t household names, and neither are the top players. Playing at Augusta doesn’t answer those questions, but it helps. There’s a reason Kupcho and runner-up Maria Fassi were on “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon” after the tournament. No course commands the attention of the golfing world like Augusta National.

“It’s just paving the way for women’s golf,” University of Florida golfer Sierra Brooks said in a video on CNBC.com. “Getting an opportunity to compete at Augusta is something that, as a girl, we couldn’t have dreamed about.”

It’s just as big, though, for Augusta itself. A course that has always prided itself on living in the past took its biggest stride into modern times. Augusta National will always be a place where the best parts of golf are celebrated. Where the best competition the sport has to offer is played against the best backdrop it can muster.

Now, Augusta is finding out that it’s possible to celebrate golf’s past without turning a blind eye to its present and future. And where there was always a tinge of guilt to being a fan and getting absorbed into and charmed by the spectacle of the Masters — you saw the course’s outward beauty, but knew also its darker past — it’s comforting to know that Augusta is moving in the more progressive direction.

Who knows what more is to come. But Saturday, for the course and the sport, was a pretty big step.

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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