Masters 2022: Solving the mystery of Augusta National’s missing (?) birds | Golf News and Tour Information
“Also, there are no birds, squirrels, insects, or any other living creatures native to planet Earth at The Masters. Nowhere on the property. Well, OK, there must be. somewhere. But Dave Sheinin of the Post and I have done a multi-Day quest for a single bird sighting. So far, none. Those bird calls you sometimes hear on the Masters show? The source remains unknown.”
—Thomas Boswell, Washington Post, 2016
Of Augusta National’s various alleged and confirmed oddities – dyed ponds, icy azaleas, painted grass – one of the most bewildering is the alleged absence of birds. As Boswell noted in his article, you can almost focus on fences that keep land animals away. But birds, to state the obvious, can fly. Beyond clear-cutting every tree on the horizon – which Augusta clearly isn’t doing – how can you stop a flying creature from invading your airspace? And even if you could, why would you?
In an attempt to solve this mystery in a simple way, I sent two emails. The first was to Augusta National’s communications staff, simply asking if the club had ever tried to keep the birds away. Unfortunately, I waited until Monday of Masters week to ask, a time when they probably have more important things to do, and got no response.
The second email was to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division. I wanted to know if it was even possible to keep the birds away, and in the interest of seeking a faster answer, I adopted a secret identity.
“Hello,” I wrote. “I run a small farm halfway between Augusta and Athens, and lately the birds have become a nuisance, constantly chirping and ‘doing business’ on my property and embarrassing me in front of buyers. Also, my wife has a I don’t want to harm birds, but I want to eliminate their presence in the airspace above my farm, or at least reduce it Are there any legal ways to reduce traffic birds or get rid of them completely?
Surprisingly, this too yielded no response. (In what could have been a critical error that hampered my case, I accidentally left out the word “not” in my original email, so my sentence read, “I want to hurt the birds. “I fixed that error in a follow-up, but by then I may have lost them.)
These failures made it clear that to solve this mystery, I had to do it the hard way.
Interestingly, CBS was indeed guilty of whistling in fake bird songs, but the incident took place in Louisville, Kentucky, in 2000 – some birdwatchers caught them at the PGA Championship – and the network has since insisted on several occasions that the birds you hear on Masters broadcasts are both native to Georgia and not pre-recorded. Which would mean, of course, that there are birds on property at Augusta National, and those birds can sing.
This should be relatively easy to prove or disprove. Thousands of people make the trip to Augusta National every year, some of them journalists, and by now we should have plenty of data to definitively answer the question. The problem, as Boswell and many others have noted, is that in reality is quite difficult to spot a bird in the field. On my maiden voyage in 2014, I was encouraged by another writer to keep my eyes peeled for a bird, and even when I made a concerted effort, I couldn’t. The same thing happened to Golf.com’s Michael Bamberger, but when he brought the matter up to Bob Costas on the course shortly after, a bird pooped on him, putting the matter to rest in his mind. But even though the strange bird sticks its head out, it doesn’t quite match the volume and clarity of birdsong on TV.
Searching the internet only made my confusion worse. Was Augusta preventing the birds from following the course? Was it nonsense, nothing more than a slanderous urban legend? And what about the strange contrast – the avian symphony on television versus the real rarity?
It was time to reach out to the birds.
Dr. Bran Cromer is an associate professor of biology at Augusta University, where he teaches a course on ornithology. He was exactly the person I needed, although of course I was worried that Augusta National had contacted him first to get his silence. On Zoom, however, he seemed completely at ease, friendly and helpful, and although I never asked him directly, I felt he was a man of integrity who had not been compromised .
“I heard rumors that they would play calls during the show,” he said. “I haven’t heard any rumors that there aren’t any birds there.”
This matched what a representative of the Augusta-Aiken Audubon Society wrote via e-mail: “I have never heard that there were no birds on the course.”
“Our campus is only a few miles up the course, and we have very similar vegetation,” Cromer told me, “and our campus is teeming with birds. We have pretty good bird diversity, so I ‘imagine the same birds are right over there.’
Augusta University is on spring break this week for Masters, and while many of those associated with the university are leaving town for the week and renting their homes, Cromer stayed behind and said he was a Masters fan. He was even on the course, although he unfortunately paid attention to the golf course rather than the birds. When he listens to CBS, however, he can hear a lot of local species.
“Carolina wrens, northern thrashers, there’s a lot of pines there, so warblers, blue jays, you hear a lot of cardinals on the show as well,” he said. “We just get a lot of birds migrating from the tropics, so you also have a few, blue-grey gnatcatchers and yellow-throated warblers. Towhee would definitely be there; state of Georgia, they would be very common in azaleas.”
Cromer also put a few other theories to rest. I had heard that a pair of owls might be responsible for scaring birds away, but Cromer said that even though owls eat birds, it doesn’t scare them away from an area, and in fact they would fight back most likely. And while Augusta National’s location in the middle of town may keep deep forest birds away, as well as deer, it’s close enough to the Augusta Country Club and other tree-lined neighborhoods that birds from barnyard he listed are common. (Cromer also challenged the idea that fences could keep terrestrial animals like squirrels away, pointing out that even if a fence were a sufficient barrier, which it was not, the animals could enter through Rae’s Creek.) Finally, , eliminating soil worms – you can imagine Augusta National being picky about this – would only affect one or two species at most.
However, Cromer had an idea why there might be fewer birds, and it was such a simple idea that I was slightly embarrassed that I hadn’t thought of it.
“The other thing,” he said, “is that when there are tens of thousands of people crossing, you’re probably going to scare some birds away.”
In 2019, Nick Paumgarten of the new yorker wrote that “it is now hardly outrageous that Augusta National…is an environment of extreme artifice, an elaborate television sound stage, a fifties fantasy, a Disneyclub in the pines of Georgia…One m I had been told that the birdsong – a large part, in any case, comes through loudspeakers hidden in the greenery. »
In fact, during his travels that year, a guard on the course told him there was a bird speaker in a nearby magnolia tree. At Berckmans Place, a VIP hospitality suite behind the fifth green, a security guard actually offered to turn down the birdsong for him.
This brand new “false birdsong theory” would seem to indicate the opposite of mainstream conspiracies; that Augusta National wanna birds, that there aren’t enough of them, so they have to make music for television.
Is it true? When I reached Paumgarten by email, he recalled hearing the rumor from other reporters and remembered the security guards, but said it was never clear “if they were trolling me or repeating traditions or whispering accepted facts”. I don’t like tossing around the word “hero” freely, but Paumgarten dug deeper than anyone in search of the truth, even going so far as to drag out “ostensibly tweet-y spots” between the press center and the driving range. . At one point, he believed he had discovered an artificial speaker. He buried his head in a holly bush and found… a real bird.
At this point in my investigations, I had no more energy to decipher what was real and what was not. All I could do now was turn to Augusta herself. I’m not on the course this week, but Golf Digest’s Joel Beall is, and I asked him, in the middle of his most important work, to keep an eye out for the birds. On Monday, he sent a message on Slack:
“SHANE. Great news. Bird watching. Heard the sounds on the 18 tee, looked up for 5 minutes, said hell…and got out of the box and up the left side of the fairway a bit near the bathrooms which are about 60 to the left of the tee box…a bird flew out of the pines and scurried by the bathroom.”
He described the bird as having an orange belly like an American robin, and although my knowledge of birds was minimal, I had spent enough time at my backyard feeder in North Carolina to suggest one to him: Eastern Towhee.
“Oh man,” he wrote. “That was it.”
“Just to be clear,” I replied, “you weren’t paid or threatened by the ANGC to give me a fake bird report, were you?”
He immediately replied, “No. In fact, there is a good chance that this will be the last time you speak to me and it will result in my immediate expulsion from the property, if not the country.”
But I think Joel will be fine. Other colleagues then spotted an entire flock of small birds swirling in some sort of formation outside the media center. I think at the end of the day the truth is that there is are birds at Augusta National, the club doesn’t do anything to chase them away, and if they’re rare during Masters week, it’s because they don’t like customers. There’s always room for more evidence to emerge, and I suspect this case isn’t closed yet – I’m always curious about hidden speakers – but right now there’s no other recourse than to declare the “missing birds” a conspiracy, and to exonerate the club, the city, the owls, the worms and all other entities for their alleged anti-avianism.
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