AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Sports spectators, unfortunately, have become immune to the abuses inflicted upon them. They are accustomed to being mistreated, which makes them masochists.
It almost goes with the territory. Attend an athletic event and prepare to be robbed. Not with a gun held to your head, but the costs have become so excessive it's a wonder the team owners, promoters and concessionaires are able to sleep at night.
Of course, the rascals have no trouble going to the bank, profiteering every step of the way. The fan has no chance. He pays too much and receives the minimum in return.
Then there's The Masters, staged every year by the Augusta National Golf Club, that shows a respect for the public which deserves to be emulated. It's the most enjoyable of all ongoing sports presentations: Tickets are $90 for four days of watching the greatest golfers in the universe play the world's most picturesque course.
There's something to be said for the gentility and manners of the South, as evidenced by the presentation of the Masters. This is one place where rudeness in the gallery is not tolerated. That will lead to termination of your ticket and out the gate you go -- never to return.
Admission badges also include free entrance (no tipping) to an orderly parking lot, a courtesy pairing sheet, including names, numbers and starting times; and the right to numerous other conveniences.
There's a message center, as a for-instance, where you can leave a note for a friend; a booth to make airline reservations; a check stand for coats, sweaters, umbrellas, etc. -- all provided by management in the interest of fan comfort.
Even if you hate golf, this is something to see. It's the model for how the ticket buyer deserves to be treated. Not violated. Getting a Masters ticket has become an almost impossible pursuit.
Ten thousand people are on the waiting list, but for any of them to be added, one of the estimated 40,000 current ticket holders would have to cancel. The Masters has a limit on the crowd because it doesn't want to get to a point where too large a gathering would be a detriment or create a stampede.
There are no corporate tents, where business leaders can entertain guests. "This is not going to be the Pizza Hut Open," said Hord Hardin, chairman of The Masters.
Hardin didn't say he was expressing his own philosophy or that )) of The Masters, although that's precisely what he was doing when he said, "We try to be governed by what is best for the most."
Once inside the Augusta National Club, which is the personification of elegance without being ostentatious, the cost of concession food and drink is so reasonable it makes you wonder why sports entrepreneurs in other pursuits aren't taken to task for what they charge.
Now for the Masters price list: Sandwiches -- pimento, $1; egg, $1; ham, $1.25; ham and cheese, $1.50; turkey, $1.50; barbecue, $1.50; club, $2. Drinks -- milk, 50 cents; soda pop (14 ounces), 75 cents; domestic beer, $1.50; imported beer, $2; candy bars, potato chips, gum and crackers, 50 cents. Ice cream bars, 75 cents.
How can baseball, football, basketball and other sports gouge their ticket buyers once they have them as a captive audience? Hardin seemed surprised the question was even asked.
"It's a basic thing with us," he said. "We could get more money, but that's not our intention. We put on this event as a service to golf."
We went to a stand manager, Frank Nelson, who has been here for 18 tournaments. What's his perspective?
"The customer is king at The Masters. And the best people in the world come here," he replied with pride. "In 18 years, I heard only one man raise his voice at one of our attendants behind a counter. He came back later to apologize, said he had too much beer."
For the first time, no tobacco products are sold, and collecting autographs isn't allowed. Again, the thought being of what's best for the masses. The players were taking longer to play practice rounds because of the pressure on them to give signatures.
So the policy was changed. "Some people think autographs are more important than watching the tournament. I don't," said Hardin.
The Masters doesn't sell hot dogs or hamburgers. It doesn't want the odor of cooking food to permeate the grounds. And you can't buy a newspaper, either, because of the chance pages might blow away.
There's no mystery as to why the Masters is the most appealing of all sports spectacles. It has simply never forgotten its debt to the public and the game it serves with what is extraordinary respect.
Masters facts and figures
At stake -- 55th Masters championship.
* Site -- Augusta National Golf Club.
* Yardage -- 6,905. * Par -- 36-3672.
* Cut -- After 36 holes of play, 44 leading scorers and all tied fo44th place, plus all within 10 strokes of the lead, qualify for the final two rounds.
* Playoff (if necessary) -- Sudden death.
* Purse -- To be announced (1990: $1.25 million).
* Defending champion -- Nick Faldo.
* Former champions in field -- Tommy Aaron, George ArcherSeve Ballesteros, Gay Brewer, Billy Casper, Charles Coody, Ben Crenshaw, Nick Faldo, Ray Floyd, Bernhard Langer, Sandy Lyle, Larry Mize, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Craig Stadler, Tom Watson, Fuzzy Zoeller.
* TV -- USA Network: Thursday-Friday, 4-6 and 9-11 p.m.; CBS: Thursday-Friday, 11:30-11:45 p.m.; Saturday 3:30-6 p.m.; Sunday 4-7 p.m.