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Augusta National Golf Course: What’s so Special About the Par-3 Contest?

Casual Competition A Great Pre-Tournament Diversion

Golf is special for a variety of reasons. It's the only sport where the players sanction themselves. It's the only sport where you actually want negative numbers. And it's probably the most social, laid-back sport we have: where else do you get to carry a beer in one hand, a club in another, and a cigar in your mouth?

But professional golf can hardly be described as a laid back game. The pressures during the final round of a major championship is palpable even to viewers watching at home thousands of miles away.

So it's nice to see the game's greats play one of the world's most hallowed and famous venues under casual circumstances. That's what the annual Par-3 contest today at Augusta is.  According to the Masters website.

First played in 1960, the Par 3 Contest has become a beloved Wednesday tradition at the Masters. The Par 3 Course was designed in 1958 by architect George Cobb and Augusta National Chairman Clifford Roberts. The Contest field includes Tournament participants, noncompeting past champions, and Honorary Invitees. The nine-hole, par-27 course measures 1,060 yards and plays over DeSoto Springs Pond and Ike's Pond.

The frivolity of the Par-3 is best exemplified when players--who that week will be burdened with unimaginable pressure and scrutiny--stroll the grounds with their toddlers as "Caddies" or laugh it up with the competition in between shots.

The Par-3 doesn't mean anything in the long run. And given the importance of hitting the ball long at Augusta National playing well in the pre-tourney tourney really doesn't prepare the field very well. (No winner of the Par-3 has ever won the Masters that same year). But it is a great diversion for the players and it's nice to see glimpses of proof that these off-limits, millionaire athletes are humans just like us.

For more on the Masters, see Swing for the Fences: Top 25 Performances in Masters History.

TAGS: 2011 Masters Tournament, , golf