As someone who did not have to write for a Sunday paper, I was enjoying a bit of a rest outside the locker-room on the Saturday of the 2003 Masters. There were a couple of caddies sitting next to me and, as we chatted, so we were joined by three of their friends, all of them nursing headaches. They asked if I could find out whether or not the smells around the mud-ridden 15th tee could have had anything to do with it.
Rising to the challenge, I headed first for the medical tent where no-one was able to throw any light on the matter. Next, I went to examine the offending area for myself before heading back to the press room where, in leafing through the opening pages of a local telephone book, I arrived at the following entry: Poison Control Centre of Georgia.
“We’ll find out what it is and we’ll get back to you,” promised their spokesperson.
Back home in the U.K., you interpret a comment like that as meaning you won’t be hearing anything. Yet, within half an hour, the man got back to me with the kind of information which the Augusta committee would no doubt have preferred to keep to themselves.
The man said that while no chemicals were involved, the combination of fertiliser, decaying plant material and the scented cat litter would have combined to become more and more pungent as the churned up walkways started to dry out after the heavy rain. (Play had been washed out altogether on the first day.) He added that hydrogen sulfide gasses would have been released.
Apparently, the trio of ingredients would have posed “a serious health threat” had they come together in an enclosed area such as a dairy pen but, since the area concerned was open, only those with existing, bronchial-related symptoms could have been affected.
Tiger Woods, with his regular sinus problems, could have been among the afflicted but, since the only complaints he brought up that week had to do with his inability to play well for more than a few holes at a time, he had not contributed to the debate.
The addition of the litter might well have stopped a few patrons from tumbling headfirst into the muddy cocktail, but whether or not that was enough to compensate for the extent to which that unsavory stench was getting up people’s noses is another matter.
By way of a further reflection, no cats were drawn to the scene.