Members of the media are able to play once in their lifetime - on the Monday following the tournament. After surviving the media lottery, I teed it up in 1984. It rained 1 inches that day and I lost my umbrella around the third or fourth hole. We were allowed to take out a golf cart ' though it didnt have a roof. If it were any place else, I would have said, No thanks, and stayed dry inside the clubhouse. But this was Augusta National, and it was the only chance I would ever have to slap it around the hallowed acreage. So ' I carried on. Swam on, actually.
But I remember down around Amen Corner, the sun actually broke though for about half an hour. Number 12, the little par 3, I made a complete mess of. But on 13, I had the thrill of my golfing life. I hit a driver, a 3-wood and a 9-iron to about three feet of the hole. I was putting for birdie.
I carefully tapped it ' and watched in horror as it teased the cup, then kept going until it settled four feet on the other side! Arnie forgive me, but that one I raked back in. I probably wouldnt have made it, but I wasnt going to give myself the chance. Since that day, Ive airily said, Oh, I played Augusta once actually putted for birdie on the 13th from about three feet, but I missed it and had to take par.
But the city in early April is a glorious place. Ive been in Augusta in the late summer, and its not nearly as impressive. But in early April, its as beautiful as any place on earth. Its still rather chilly. It always seems to rain this week, at least one day. But the smells of the foliage blooming, the scent of the pines in the early morning still covered with heavy dew the shrubbery and flowers bedazzle you with their brilliance. It is all such a vivid palette of sights and smells and the cleanliness of the town is ' well, just awesome.
The first glimpse of the course is awe-inspiring, also. The drive in is rather mundane. The parking lot is outside the gate, and for a moment, you wonder what all the hubbub is about. You show your ticket at the entry way, and still you cannot see much. You pass the merchandise building. You pass the press building.
And then, it hits you ' this is a sight that you will savor until your dying day. You round a turn and there it is ' the course, a brilliant shade of green, is all out there in front of you. From the vantage point up high near the clubhouse, you can see so much of the course. Steep elevation changes mean that perhaps 10 of the 18 holes are visible. The land drops more than a hundred feet between the 10th tee and Amen Corner ' the 11th green, the par-3 12th, and the first half of the par-5 13th.
From this vantage beside the storied old clubhouse, the course actually looks like velvet. Immaculately maintained, it is open only from October through to the following May. It is closed during the summer months, when plastic sheets are spread over the bunkers to prevent grass from growing in them. No one plays there, and few play there when it is open. Seems like the upkeep on such a pasture would be simple. And it is, when compared with other golf courses.
But the greens are so lush in April. The grasses are one hue, then the trees are another. Splashed out amongst the course is the brilliant whites of the sand in the bunkers. All in all, it looks like a cathedral to the gods.
The fairways are composed of many length-wide stripes, stretching from the tee box to the greens, each perhaps 6-10 feet in width. One is a light shade of green, another darker. This is the result of daily mowing ' the direction the mower is traveling determines to shade of green.
In several areas the flowers are vividly in view ' the whites and pinks and reds and yellows bursting with a spring-time brilliance. As just about all Masters aficionados know, this was a huge nursery around the turn of the century. Much of the flora was transported from other regions by the Belgian owners. When it was sold and a golf course laid out, the developers kept the flowers. Legend has it that ice is applied to the beds to ensure that the flowers all bloom at once, precisely at this time in April. It isnt true, of course ' but it illustrates the incredible beauty the casual onlooker feels when he first is hit by the brilliant splash of colors.
Forget for a moment the politics of the club, whether it should or should not accept women, whether most of the members are Republican or Democrat, whether the leadership is a bunch of old fogeys who view their golf with a stiff upper lip and an even stiffer mint julep. This is Augusta National, and the sights and smells are among the most pleasing on earth.
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