The first time I went to the United States Masters at Augusta, and the other twice as well, I made a special effort to get to the first tee on the first day to watch the opening shots of the tournament.
At something like eight o'clock in the morning, there were launched the ceremonial drives of three of the greatest players of all time: Byron Nelson, Gene Sarazen and Sam Snead. They hit off, the Masters began.
Couldn't see much, though. It seemed that every lover of the game in America had assembled to pay homage to these legendary figures. But I could feel the reverence and it is an endearing and enduring tradition in the game that we venerate its most famous practitioners.
People still come close to swooning when they come upon Arnold Palmer, or his statue, Jack Nicklaus is practically deifed, awe is still the word that is applied to the stature of the late Ben Hogan, Bobby Jones fills the pages of history and there will forever be a golf grip with which to commemorate Harry Vardon.
There's a much longer list than the one just mentioned; does any sport honour its principals quite like golf? We still read about these titans, of the things they won and the way they won them. About what they bestowed on the game and, usually, their flawless deportment.
I've just finished reading a book about a more modern icon. Severiano Ballesteros. You can hardly call him contemporary for his game has long gone but he has illuminated the sport in his time. Reading this book, though, Seve (Virgin Books, £18.99) by Alistair Tait I am forced to wonder where he is going to stand in the pillar of history.
For Tait, as any honest chronicler must, has produced a warts- and- all depiction of the fiery Spaniard and, quite frankly, the weight of blemishes revealed is depressing.
Let's start with the conventional eulogy. Ballesteros, according to the view of many, was, at his best, the most naturally gifted golfer who ever swung a club. He won five major championships and just about everything else that was worth winning, he galvanized the European Tour and is regarded as the man, above all others, who made the Ryder Cup a contest.
Two men represent most powerfully for me the thrill, the glamour, the adventure, the unlikelihood, the extreme skills and the pure wonder of sport and Ballesteros is one of them (Gareth Edwards is the other).
Seve was - and you have to stress the word was - a great player and that much, surely, will always be remembered. But what has happened to the image? Why do we struggle to think of him as we think of Palmer and Nicklaus?
Not his fault, of course, that his golf has deserted him. So much of the best of it came from that big heart of his; so much of his time was spent on the edge of the knife. He never did live by mechanical perfections and the huge calls that he made on his nerve were bound to tell in the end.
But with his game, it seems, went his common sense and, yes, his common decency. It is a charge that must be laid against Ballesteros: he has always believed himself to be bigger than the game. Rules were for others; they could be manipulated at his whim.
If he joins the US Tour, as he did, on the understanding that he plays 15 of their tournaments a year, how dare they quibble when he decides to play nine?
I suspect that the sharp part of Ballesteros's motivation in the Ryder Cup came from his antipathy towards all things American. There are those of them who did not enjoy playing him in the Ryder Cup. There are those who did not enjoy playing him, period.
He was a master of the art of intimidation which, it is suggested in this book, is a euphemism for something else. Those coughs he used to have on the tee.
The year 2003 was virtually the end of Ballesteros's playing career. And what an inglorious end.
He shot rounds of 77 and 85 in the Masters but nothing he did, golfwise, compared with the utterly distasteful controversies-that swirled around him.
He raged when referee John Grant warned him for slow play in the second round of the Madeira Island Open. He accused Grant of harassing him and, after an inquiry, tournament director Jose Maria Zamora announced that Ballesteros's group had finished 27 minutes behind the group in front. Zamora and Ballesteros had an angry row in the car park then.
Something worse broke out between the two at Pedrena, Seve's home course, sometime later and Seve was forced to apologise to the Tour.
Apologies could never cover his conduct in the Italian Open. On the 14th hole referee John Paramor, as strong a character as Ballesteros, as he proved more than once, warned the Spaniard for slow play. On the 16th, he went further. He penalised him a shot and infamy followed.
Ballesteros's partner, Gregory Havret, marked him down for a five that included the penalty. Not only did Ballesteros refuse to accept the penalty, he scrubbed out the five that Havret had entered and put down a four.
"I sign for the amount of strokes I make . . ." he said. "You want to disqualify me, go ahead."
Paramor had no option but to do just that and before the dust had settled Ballesteros had fired off a rancorous broadside at the Tour. They were dictators and members of the Mafia. He had become, in the eyes of some of his peers, odiously bombastic.
His closer friends talked of a soul in torment; how could you lose what Ballesteros had lost and not be affected? But he was totally friendless on this issue and the Tour fined him £5,000.
Ballesteros apologised all round for his "wrong manners" but on the last page of his book Tait tells of another crisis in the great player's life. He and his wife, Carmen, had signed for divorce, it having been alleged that the would-be legend had had an affair with a younger woman in Pedrena. To have lost so much . . .
We only see him now as a television commentator, living on his reputation rather than any outstanding flair as a communicator. It has been a wonderful reputation, to be sure, but I believe that quite a few years will have to pass before it is restored to the level of some of the honourable pioneers who walked the fairways before him.