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Monday, April 12, 2010

Augusta

After months of scheming to surprise Doug and making plans for a magical week at the Masters, the day had finally arrived. We got up at 5.00 a.m. and left for the course at 6.10. We had about an hour and a half drive down to Augusta from Columbia, South Carolina. As we pulled into the parking area, I glanced over at Doug and he was grinning from ear from ear. Then out of the blue he said, "I'm thrilled!" I got a little teary thinking that this moment meant so much to him. We parked the car and headed towards the main gate.
Augusta has a strict no cell phones, no cameras rule so it was all about taking it all in mentally and locking the memories into your mind. As we approached the entrance, we were both in a 'pinch me is this real' state of mind. And then all of the sudden, we were on the hallowed grounds of Augusta National Golf Course! We had gotten a tip to set our chairs down by the 18th green and then start walking around. Augusta has this great tradition of allowing people to set down their specially designed green Masters chairs anywhere on the course and they will be there any time of the day for you to sit and enjoy the action. Amazing.
Before we proceeded to walk the course, we indulged in a Masters tradition of grabbing a cup of coffee and a sausage biscuit. The biscuits in the south are so yummy you just can't believe how they melt in your mouth! The most surprising thing of all was the bill as we checked out: $5.00. We had heard that the food at the Masters was reasonable, but seriously, nothing on the menu was more than $2.50 with most items ranging from $1.00-$1.50. Beer was a bit more at $2.75 a pint! So much fun to be a part of such a neat happening.
We were eager to walk the course and as we did we, like all others before us, stood in awe at the immaculate nature of the set up, the beauty of the trees and flowers and grass and the contours of the course.
What I noticed right away was my husband's amazing knowledge of the game of golf, grass, and Augusta National. He knew which holes were which, what their par was, what the issues were for each shot. He was telling me about the grass, why a certain strain wasn't so good for the course, how the they mow, why they use certain machines to do certain things, etc. It was so neat for me to see this and listen to him pontificate about this sport and this place that he loves so much.
Walking the course was amazing. So many more hills than you see on TV and the toughness of the course becomes clear in how narrow the landing areas are and how hilly the greens are. When we arrived in Amen Corner, the beauty of hole 13 just takes your breath away. It is truly one of the most beautiful, if not the most beautiful, golf holes in the world.
After getting a feel for the course, we decided to try and get a glimpse of some of the golf. Phil Mickelson was my favorite from the beginning and he had a morning tee time. We stood on hole 6, a beautiful par 3 with a difficult putting surface. Eventually we found our way to our green side chairs on 18 and began to watch the morning groups finish up their rounds. We were present when Tom Watson hit an amazing approach to about 2 feet from the pin on 18 and subsequently make birdie for the low round of the day. It was a thrill to sit there and watch the leaderboard and listen for the roars going up around the course that signaled something incredible was going on somewhere!
Augusta is great because they have maintained so much tradition around this tournament. No electronic scoreboards, no big screen TV's perched around the course. If you wanted to see what was going on, you had to walk to the area where the action was! The atmosphere on the course is electric, especially around hole number 1 and Amen Corner, where many golfing dreams have been shattered by the challenge of holes 11, 12 and 13. We were on 11 for awhile and watched as Anthony Kim, another favorite, hit what we thought was an impossible shot through the trees to just shy of the green! The putting surface at 11 is so fast that it boggles the mind how anyone ever makes a putt. The players were barely tapping the ball and it was flying across the green. 12 looks so harmless...at 156 par 3 and yet there are so many ways to get in trouble and such a delicate area in which you can land your ball, that it's easy to see why the water comes into play. The beauty of the course along with the mental and physical challenges that Augusta creates for the best in the world just make it one of the greatest golf venues in the world.
The first day we left at 4.00 p.m. as threatening thunder storms were lurking. They never materialized but we were happy to watch the last few holes on TV and rest up for Friday. Friday we arrived at 7.30 a.m. and didn't leave until 7.30 p.m.! We sat on holes 4, 5, 11-12, 7, and 18. Great fun to watch the players approach and then set up their putts. These greens are crazy man! We saw every golfer at least once and were thrilled to be on 18 as Phil Mickelson came through looking like a real contender for victory. It was a bit sad to think that soon our presence at Augusta National would be ending, but we treasured the memories that we had built over these 2 days.
Stunning highlights include:
1. Seeing the course, of course! Far more beautiful and far more hilly than television reveals, it was a treat to walk along the fairways and sit on the greens and tees.
2. The atmosphere. Being on the course in key places is very cool. You have to pick your spot as following a group is really hard to do. The galleries are quite large in the prime spots so you are better off finding a good perch and watching several groups come through. What is totally awesome is to be on the course when a loud roar goes up somewhere else on the course. You try to figure out on what hole the amazing shot occurred and then you check the leader board to see what's being posted to reveal what happened! This is where the old school leader boards and non-electronic communication is just so cool. You're looking at this old fashioned board and there are guys sitting up on them, putting in the numbers and the names and then flipping them around and when it goes up, it's just such a thrill to see what's happening around the course.
3. Generally speaking, white pants are not my favorite. There are few who pull the look off well and often, it just doesn't look that great!
4. The young golfers care about fashion and their appearance! They are dressed to the nines in high fashion attire and the skinny, fit ones look, well fabulous. This is a big industry in golf and the handsome young men who are wearing the goods look great on the course!
5. Doug knows golf. It was so much fun asking him questions to which he knew every answer! He always knew what fairway, which green or tee was lurking nearby and he understood what the issues were for each shot. Fun, fun, fun to cash in on his knowledge and love of the game.
6. The dogwood is more beautiful than I could ever believe. It is a delicate thing. This I never knew. I always thought dogwoods were big, blooming trees like Hazelnuts, but they are not...they have delicate branches with sweet little white or pink blossoms. Lovely to see them dotting the course.
7. Here in the southeast, the folks consider the Masters a local sporting event. Just about everyone we met through our friends Charlie and Anita, the ones who helped us get our tickets, have either been to the Masters or know people who go regularly. The ticket is hard to get unless you live in the area. Then it seems that a sub-culture around the tickets emerges and stumbling upon the lucky star of getting a ticket is far more likely for the local folk than anyone else. It was fun being here where everyone was talking golf and wondering about what was going to happen. Masters Sunday is a big deal here in the southeast!
8. Watching the Masters live does not improve your own golf game. Too bad. We played on Saturday at Musgrove Mills Golf Course outside of Greenville and I was as terrible as ever. I need lessons on the short game or I'll just never learn to enjoy the game as much as I could. I did manage to crack a few drives however and that always feels good. The greens were elevated however and that is just death for me. I lost many, many balls as well. At least it was sunny!
9. Watching the pros is truly stunning. They swing so fast, they pull off shots that we would never even think of let alone execute, they find putting lines and sink putts that look like they are heading for another realm and they love the thrill of victory and suffer the agony of defeat. It is fun cheering for them all.
10. Augusta just leaves no stone unturned. The food wrappers are green in case one is blowing around the course. It'll blend. The bleachers, the chairs, the umbrellas, etc. are green. The course is green. The jacket is green. It is so immaculate and so well planned that being a patron is just pure joy. Every staff worker was pleasant and helpful and just gave you the impression that they wanted you to have the time of your life.
And we did.
We watched part of Saturday and all of Sunday on TV at our friend's house and especially on Sunday I paid close attention to each and every hole sealing the view in my mind's eye. I was thrilled that Phil Mickelson won the tournament that we attended. What a great moment for him and his family.
And this week was a great moment for me and my family too! Doug and I will forever cherish the memories of these special days here in the southeast at Augusta National.
It's funny. I always thought that if we could go once, I'd be satisfied, but truth be told, I'd definitely go again if the possibility arose!