Friday, May 21, 2004 was the day. We traveled to Augusta from our home on Hilton Head Island on Thursday evening as a precaution against travel mishaps that might occur on Friday morning. It was a beautiful day. My husband was also invited to play, although he had played there on a few occasions. I had never thought I would have the opportunity, but it was now finally happening. The drive down Magnolia Lane sent goose bumps over my body. Thinking of all those greats who had traveled this Lane before filled my head. Our host welcomed us as we parked our car and ushered us to the Clubhouse where we met another gentleman who would be our fourth for the round. There being no locker room for ladies, my host took me upstairs to the Champions' Locker Room. He asked which locker I wished to use, and without hesitation, I chose Arnold Palmer's locker. What a thrill! With a warm smile, my host suggested that I should tell my women golfing friends of the fine hospitality shown to women at Augusta. But that was only the beginning. We then proceeded to lunch in the dining room which was delightful, served in the elegantly casual atmosphere which personifies Augusta National.
Then off to the practice range where we were reunited with our clubs and introduced to our caddies. After watching me hit a few shots, my caddie immediately tried to put me at ease by saying things like the course would be easy for me and that I would outplay the men etc. It was not working! On the first tee, and I must remind you, there are no tees for ladies, it was decided on the grounds that as this was my day, that I should have the honor. It was conceded that I would play from the front of the members' tees which probably reduces the yardage to about 6,100. At address my knees were shaking and I told the rest of the group who all laughed goodheartedly. I am not sure how but I was able to make a decent swing and hit the ball straight down the middle about 190 yards. The game was on. While I did manage to hit a solid three wood down in front of the green, I proceeded to run my chip shot over the green and take four more from there to finish my first hole at Augusta with a triple bogey. An auspicious start to say the least.
The par 5 second, Pink Dogwood, proved to be more satisfying. Following a good drive and another solid 3 wood down to the flat area, I hit my 8 iron approach into the left front bunker. From there I blasted out to about 12 feet of the back left pin and made the putt for par. My first par at Augusta...I was ecstatic. From there everything within me settled down and with prompting from my husband and my caddie I started to look at my surroundings. It is different inside the ropes and I think the hills are steeper than what the spectators experience in April. The azaleas are finished of course for the year, but the lush greenness remains and is every bit as beautiful. The fairways are still magnificent, but in late May there are tell-tale signs of the Georgia summer heat that is around the corner starting to show on the rye grass. The greens, while surely wearing a lower reading on the stimpmeter than during the Masters, are every bit as treacherous. I can vouch for that!
I made the turn in 46 and then like the course itself, proceeded downhill with three double bogeys in a row. Despite my determination to par No.12 and especially not to end up in Rae's Creek, I hit my tee shot long into one of the two back bunkers. Looking at Rae's from there was pretty scary and I failed to get out on my first attempt and a double bogey followed. With the greens snatching two possible pars from me on 13 and 14 ( the latter green the toughest of all I believe), I played Number 15, Firethorn, well after almost putting my second in the pond in front. My caddie was surprised and asked if I had been trying to duplicate Sarazen's double eagle. Instead I chipped to within 10 feet, lipped my birdie putt and marked a 5 on my card. I followed that up with a 20 foot putt on sixteen which was special for it is this hole we sit on Saturday and Sunday afternoons at the Masters. While I do not know the exact statistic, I believe more Tournaments have been won or lost on this hole than any other. It is my favorite.
Seventeen and eighteen produced two bogeys. Walking up 18, it occurred to me that the round was almost over and it had taken twenty minutes to play. Or so it seemed. The rush was so great...there was no tiredness, no aching bones on that long, last climb. My caddie, who had also graciously served as photographer, took some final shots of everyone on that last hill, some with the clubhouse ahead of us and others looking back down over the beautiful old lady now shimmering in late afternoon Georgia sunshine.
My final tally was a 95 and I felt very proud to have achieved that as an 18 handicap player. I also had felt the presence of Arnie with me for the entire round and it was good. We reminisced with cocktails on the veranda later and talked about the good shots and the bad shots and those that should have been. It was a day in my golfing life that will be remembered always. And it was good.
- June, Hilton Head Island, SC
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