I’m Sorry, but I Hate the Masters Par-3 Contest

What used to be a cool skills competition has devolved into a tedious family photo op—make it stop!

By Alan Shipnuck
April 5, 2023

AUGUSTA, Ga.—I’m sorry, but  someone has to say it: I hate the Masters par-3 contest. What used to be a supercool skills competition has turned into a fatuous combination of Romper Room and a Pantene commercial. Hey, I like cute kids too, but get them the heck off the golf course! And let’s save the preening WAGs for the 18th hole on Sunday. The worst televised golf of the year is now, incredibly, Wednesday afternoon of the Masters. For the love of Hogan, please make it stop!

I promise I’m not a curmudgeon. When the neighborhood dogs see me they wag their tails, and old ladies cross the street to chit chat. But watching Thomas Pieters leave a tee box on Wednesday, carrying two small children with a pacifier in his mouth…that’s the last straw. Every decision at the Masters is made so as not to roust the ghost of Clifford Roberts. Note that the club’s imperious co-founder had three wives but zero children. There is no chance Roberts would be pleased with toddlers throwing tantrums during the par-3 contest. His successor Hord Hardin knew this: in the late 1980’s, the Tour’s resident rebel, Ken Green, had his young son and daughter each carry a couple of clubs in the par-3. The next day, waiting at Green’s locker, was a strongly-worded letter from Hardin telling him to knock it off.

At my first Masters, in 1994, the par-3 was still cool. It had a casual vibe, but the players treated it like a relevant part of their pre-tournament preparation as they dialed in their wedge games. Their control of those spinny golf balls was mesmerizing. Sure, a few yuks were had along the way, but the event was conducted with the same dignity as the rest of the week. 

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Things began to go off the rails in the early 2000s, which a cynic would note was exactly when the club went through a messy and extremely public controversy due to its all-male membership. What could possibly be a better way to win hearts and minds than providing a family-friendly playground for adorable kids and fetching caddies with immaculately coifed hair? The par-3 was televised for the first time in 2008, by ESPN, the second Masters of Billy Payne’s tenure as chairman. Payne was a marketer at heart but would get pounded annually in the press for his steadfast refusal to admit a female member. (He finally relented in 2012.) Putting the par-3 contest on TV was a clever bit of misdirection, and that’s when the arms race of cuteness really began. Wives began to employ hair-and-makeup technicians, and great thought was given to the matching footwear for every child. Inexorably, kids and caddies began hitting tee shots and putts. Anyone who tried to take the tournament-within-the-tournament seriously was branded a killjoy.

I fully understand that most of the players love what the par-3 has become. It produces treasured memories and photos that last a lifetime, and as a doting father of four, I’m happy for them. I am! In this era where growing-the-game has become golf’s lodestone, the family vibe of the par-3 certainly offers a welcoming and inclusive message to new golfers. But at what cost to the rest of us?

On Wednesday, under a bluebird sky, I walked around the par-3 again, determined to have an open mind. The feeling in the air was festive. The massive galleries cheered supportively every time a toddler whiffed with a plastic club, or successfully raked a bunker, and laughter ripped through the crowd anytime a sibling shoved another. All the matching green-and-white Air Jordans certainly looked clean. Kelly Rahm, with a set of clubs on her back and a baby strapped to her chest, probably deserves a medal. Around every green there were whispers of approval about Jena Sims’s hair, just as she hoped. Plenty of good shots were played, including four aces, with Seamus Power going back-to-back on the 8th and 9th holes. The crowd was in a tizzy! All the moms and dads between the ropes couldn’t have looked happier or prouder. It was heartwarming stuff, and I was overwhelmed with one feeling: Still hate it.

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12 thoughts on “I’m Sorry, but I Hate the Masters Par-3 Contest”

  1. Thank you! Kids are nice and all but one of the pleasures of now being a grandparent is that I can give the kids back to their parents when I tire of them. I now get how my parents and in-laws (may they RIP). I want to see golf shots, not romper room.

  2. Who cares Fred Ridley that you work for a law firm that’s 180 years old. Everything that’s wrong with golf, Stogy, unapproachable, unwelcoming. What does separating from the PGA Tour have to do with appreciating what the greats achieved. You’re talking about an organization, not the game. Must we never innovate, never advance. Everything the PGA Tour has done since LIV was initiated has been reactive. Anyone with an intellectual bone in there body must ask why?

  3. THANK YOU! I had to turn it off! Between the WAG’s preening, Michael Collins’ cringe worthy interviews and that MOOK Gary Player slow playing everyone and showboating it was unbearable. Player has tarnished his rep as much as Angel Cabrera. Thanks Alan for speaking the truth!

  4. What do you watch on Wednesday afternoon at the other majors?

    At least they are out there and doing some different stuff

  5. Barbara Hejduk

    Absolutely agree with you. I had to turn the TV off as the commentary was just terrible. Also, Gary Player needs to go home.

  6. I…grudgingly agree. A kid making a cameo or hitting an occasional shot was fine but now it’s a daycare field trip. Toddlers don’t know what’s going on and don’t care so what’s the point? The pros, however, are competitive in all things so if Player A’s kid gets a white jumpsuit then Player B will want the same.

    Only grinches and grouches are anti-cute-kid, right? But if the Par 3 is a chance for the old timers and even the current crop to relax and interact with the crowd a bit then the baby-wrangling more or less eliminates that dynamic.

  7. When I turned it on last night, I couldn’t help but think “What would Cliff Roberts think of this mess?”

  8. As I stated on twitter it was just nauseating. I get it, these are amazing moments for the spouses and kids to look back on, but these are professional golfers and this is being shown live as a tournament where at least half the field don’t even score their card. Make them play a match ball and then a fun ball and get back to a scorecard being offered and players to root for. How about providing the winner with a score starting -1 on the 1st tee on Thursday. It might be taken a little more seriously then…….

  9. We all love kids and hot chicks, but the Par 3 contest has become an event not worthy of broadcast. It is a total mess and joke.

    And Gary Player needs to just go away from view….he has always been the President of The Gary Player Fan Club, but he is now exceedingly difficulty to endure, in any way. Just go away, please….

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