From Burger King to Magnolia Lane

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It was around 1990 and I was managing a television station for the New York Times in Huntsville, Al. I got that 'call' from one of my corporate supervisors one afternoon about a month after the Masters that year.
 
'Our newsprint supplier is hosting a group of us at Augusta and one of the players can't stay for the entire trip....could you join us and fill-in for two days?' At the time, I was about a ten handicap and obviously found the time to accept the invitation. My memories of the three rounds I played there are, of course, vivid. As I recall, I shot 83, 84, and 85 with birdies on 16, 13, and 15 over the course of the visit. But my most vivid recollections were of the famous rules and regulations that govern a visitor to Magnolia lane. First, I was not allowed on the grounds until the man I was replacing had left the property. I spent two hours in a Burger King on Washington Road waiting for his departure. When I drove up to the clubhouse, I was met like an honored guest at the clubhouse door, registered into my motel-like room next to the clubhouse and my clubs were taken to the storage area to await the morning round. I recall standing in the doorway of my room at sunset looking across the practice green into the twilight and feeling lightheaded with anticipation. Could I do this?
 
Would I actually be allowed to do this? I joined my colleagues for dinner in the clubhouse and the wine and stories flowed freely until a late hour. If I slept that night, I don't recall it because I saw the sun come up and the dew begin to steam off that most manicured of acres. I met my caddy the next morning and we headed to the range with a bag of practice balls. 'How far to you hit your 7 iron,'? The young man said as he placed the two dozen or so balls on turf as pristine as most greens. '
 
Hopefully, about 150 yards if I don't throw up,' I said with more than a little truth in the remark. He said nothing but took the empty bag and sauntered downrange about 150 yards. I soon became aware that everyone's caddy had done the same and the premise was that they would gather the balls as we hit and re-fill the shag bags. All I can say is that my caddy covered a lot of the range during my warm-up.....and much of it was far-ranging from his original 150 yard posting.
 
Finally, on a glorious late spring morning, our group was second to tee-off and my heart was racing. The Vice-Chairman of the Board of the New York Times was in the group ahead and was standing over his second shot from just shy of the initial bunker on the right of the 1st fairway. It looked like nine miles away from the tee. One of my playing partners said he felt we could tee away and that I should hit. Mr. Vice-Chairman hit his shot and began to walk slowly up the hill. You can imagine the rest of the story. I hit the drive of my life (with my eyes closed) and very nearly clipped the corporate eagle in the back. I thought I tried to yell 'fore' but my mouth was so dry it probably came out like a whisper. My superior eyed the near-miss and turned with a fist pumping in my direction. He later said he was acknowledging a strong tee shot rather than counting the remaining hours of my employment.
 
Most of the three rounds have blurred over time, but the total experience is indelible in my heart. We were all treated like conquering heroes as we hacked around that day and the next. If the caddies were amused at our talent, they graciously did not show it. The paths the patrons had worn less than a month previous were still bare and the TV towers were still in place. There was an eerie stillness everywhere as we were among probably fewer than five groups on the course that day. I have been fortunate to attend the Masters on five different occasions and those three rounds on that magnificent acreage only served to heighten my conviction that it is truly the most beautiful place on this earth if you are a golfer.
 
-Bob, Eureka, CA
 
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