By Ann Liguori
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (CBSNewYork) -- When you think of the Masters, you think of tradition. No other sporting event in the world exudes tradition quite like it.
The promo on CBS Sports, uttered so dramatically by Jim Nantz -- "a tradition unlike any other -- the Masters," reminds us that tradition is one of the main reasons the first major on the men's calendar, played every year at Augusta National, is so special.
Yet there's a fine balance between maintaining the tradition that adds to the magic of the Masters while making improvements to the championship, whether it's Augusta National making changes to the course to keep up with the technology in the game or staying ahead of new technology to transmit the Masters to its global audience.
Chairman Billy Payne said in his annual address Wednesday, "This year, for example, we will be broadcasting Amen Corner in 4K, the first-ever live broadcast in the United States utilizing this promising new technology, and we will test a live virtual reality experience, which just may change the way that our fans choose to enjoy our tournament in the future.
"This new offering is a test and is clearly indicated to further showcase our beautiful golf course, and at the same time, to measure the demand for our expanding digital platforms."
When I asked Payne about the challenge of maintaining the tradition of the Masters while making improvements in keeping up with technology, Payne replied: "Well, I think more than talk about it, would be to demonstrate it. And I think the tradition of the Masters ... is centered around the quality of the competition, the beauty of the course (and) increasingly, importantly, the friendliness of our staff and the people. The thousands of letters that I receive after every Masters, 95 percent of them talk about personal encounters our visitors have had with members of our staff.
"And it's so gratifying to know that they feel so welcomed, and I think it surprises them. In many cases, they thought they were coming to see golf, but the experience proved to be a lot more personal and a lot more impressive to them. That's what makes me the proudest.
"So that is what I believe our tradition is. We build these buildings, we stay on top of all technologies because we are going to be the best. Nobody is going to be better than us in that respect. So if we can keep that pace and at the same time maintain the friendliness and the welcoming culture that we are known for, then that's what's important to preserve, and I think we do it pretty well."
The tradition of the Masters means many things. To me, it's the fact that the course, although holes have been revised through the years, remains as pristine and perfectly manicured as can be and relatively the same every year.
It means seeing blooming azaleas and magnolias dotting the spectacular landscape this time every year. In fact in a 1939 press release reprinted in the 2016 Masters media guide, a quote from sports writer O.B. Keeler says: "In order to duplicate the Augusta National, one would need to begin a hundred-year program. It was just about that long ago that plants and rare trees began arriving from various parts of the world."
Tradition here at the Masters means the Champions Dinner hosted by the defending champ on Tuesday evening of Masters week.
It means the price of sandwiches remain at $1.50. And they're wrapped in green in case the wrapping blows away, so they blend in with the landscape.
It means the par-3 competition on Wednesday, visiting with the great Arnold Palmer, watching legends Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Tom Watson talk about the respect they have for each other and seeing the players have so much fun with their fellow competitors, their family, friends and the patrons, sharing the joy of the game amidst such a spectacular, beautiful venue.
It means the former Masters champ putting the green jacket on the new champion on Sunday.
Tradition at the Masters to me means remembering some of the greatest wins in history here and reading about the ones I didn't witness in person:
• Gene Sarazen scoring a double-eagle in 1935.
• Jack Nicklaus winning his sixth green jacket at the age of 46 in 1986.
• Larry Mize chipping in for birdie on the final playoff hole for the win in 1987.
• Phil Mickelson draining a 20-footer on the 18th to win his first major championship and his first of three Masters titles in 2004.
• Tiger Woods chipping in for birdie on the par-3 16th hole in 2005. The update anchor at WFAN threw it to me at that very moment, and what a thrill to call-it live on the radio as the ball was trekking for the hole. The ball hung on the edge of the cup for a second, showing off the Nike logo, and then dramatically dropped into the cup.
• Jordan Spieth's impressive win last year.
The extraordinary performances by the players continue to build on the tradition at the Masters.
Payne and Augusta National seem committed to preserving the tradition here while staying on top of anything they can do to make improvements. It's a challenging balancing act but achievable.
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