By Jonathan Ernst
AUGUSTA, Ga. (Reuters) - Golfers from around the world teed up for the 81st U.S. Masters tournament this week, after six-time winner Jack Nicklaus took the opening ceremonial tee shot on Thursday.
Personalities, many of a political ilk, count themselves among the members of the Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia, including former Senator Sam Nunn, former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Commissioner of the National Football League Roger Goodell. And some show up for the tournament.
But before the action gets underway, there are days of preparation and socializing in the run-up to the highly anticipated event.
Players practiced putts on Monday and Tuesday mornings on freshly manicured grass. Each hole on the azalea-lined course, which was a plant nursery when it was established in 1934, is named for a shrub or plant like "Flowering Peach" and "Tea Olive."
Between holes, members munch on southern favourite pimento cheese sandwiches and sip beer or soda. Those competing are careful not to lose focus amid the snacks, banter and unusually heavy winds; if they win the tournament, they are invited back to play in it for life.
On Tuesday evening Masters champions gathered for their annual dinner, traditionally hosted by the previous year’s winner, who chooses the menu.
The Par 3 competition held before the Masters was cut short on Wednesday because of stormy weather. Some superstitious players avoid that contest because no one who has won it has also won the Masters in the same year.
When a winner emerges on Sunday afternoon, last year’s champion christens them in the iconic sport jacket - an eye-catching green number bearing the Masters logo, a small outline of the United States and a yellow flag stick pointing to Augusta, patched on the pocket.
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(Reporting by Jonathan Ernst in Augusta; Editing by Melissa Fares)