Friday, September 4, 2015
Spring Azalea, Jamestown, NC
Masters Suspended, Getty Images
It’s been said that a good golf course is heaven at a lower altitude. And April in the southeast welcomes azaleas, sunshine, and April showers. Those April rain showers resurrect the land and all that’s green, including some of the most beautiful real estate on earth. The first full week of April signals the arrival of The Masters Golf Tournament played in Augusta, Georgia. This is the first of four majors played each season which marks the career of all winners. Even casual golf fans will tune in to watch the Masters just for the beautiful scenery if nothing else. I had always longed to be there in person. Just the names of some of the holes at Augusta give you the idea such as Pink Dogwood (2), Flowering Peach (3), Flowering Crab Apple (4), Magnolia (5), Yellow Jasmine (8), and Carolina Cherry (9) on the front nine. It’s a spring ritual like nothing else for those of us who love to play the game and admire those who have come as close as human beings can come to mastering the game—at least mastering the game well enough to better most other human beings. Leading up to the 2006 tournament there had been seven out of eight Masters experiencing a rain delay in Georgia.
The legendary Bobby Jones envisioned the course and the first Augusta National tournament was played in 1934. The tournament is steeped in tradition. A green jacket has been awarded to the winner ever since 1949 and it is retained at the clubhouse for the golfer’s use every Tuesday before the tournament at the Champions Dinner. Honorary past champions hit the first tee ball to commence every tournament. A par 3 contest is played on Wednesday in a family-friendly atmosphere where many players go out of their way to lose, since no winner has ever won the regular event. Historically, fans arriving early can place their portable chairs around the ropes and leave them there to be undisturbed whenever they return. A disruptive fan with a pass can also immediately have it confiscated for life. Caddies must wear a uniform consisting of a white jumpsuit, a green Masters cap, and white tennis shoes. The defending champion always receives caddy number 1.
Tickets to the actual tournament are sold only to members of a patrons list which is closed. People are said to keep tournament tickets in the family for years, but there are a limited number of tickets available on the internet where demand far outstrips supply. I had my first knee joint replacement at the beginning of 2006, followed by a heart attack on my first day of therapy, followed immediately with a stint, followed by quadruple bypass six weeks later. As I was starting my heart surgery recovery therapy, I received a call from the owner and president of the company I had been consulting with in Mexico. He calmly informed me that he had just acquired an incentive on the internet for me to get back on the job. He now had three tickets to the Masters and one of them was mine if I could get my doctor’s approval to board a plane to Atlanta in eight weeks. I made it!
I flew into Atlanta just before the tournament and the three of us stayed on an estate that was primarily an expansive man cave with a driving range, shooting range, indoor batting cage, television rooms, bar, game room, pool tables, etc. We got up early on Saturday morning after the night’s violent storms and drove through tornado debris on the outskirts of Atlanta. The weather was ominous but we arrived in the unpretentious town of Augusta, parked in a remote lot and made our way to the course. My companions asked me to check out rental seats as we made our way into the course in the madding crowd. That’s the last time I saw them until after the rain delay. Cell phones and cameras were forbidden on the course, which made it impossible to communicate. We had agreed to meet by a telephone complex, but we never made contact there either.
Fortunately we had distributed our tickets as we departed the SUV in the parking lot. I finally entered the course through security and it was indeed enchanting and even more like hallowed ground than seen on television. The grounds were lush from all the rain and flowering blooms were almost everywhere you turned. I took the time to route myself through a nearby permanent merchandise building where I purchased a golf shirt, an umbrella and two Masters hats, one promised for my physical therapist. Then I made my way over to the telephone complex where I did not find my two companions. So I walked to a green and just took in the experience of being at the Masters. We made it for a few hours and then the lightning and thunder of another approaching storm became more ominous. In minutes the rain began and sirens sounded to suspend play. A loud speaker was encouraging fans to leave the premises and return to their vehicles until the all clear siren was sounded. Once again I made my way to the telephone complex but could not find my travelling companions, so I decided to walk to the SUV to see if they were there. They were not and I did not have the keys.
I walked back to the main gate in the rain to regroup with the telephones where it turned out my companions were waiting on me and getting more impatient by the hour. That’s when I began to lose my star-struck innocence at the Masters. A gate attendant (bridge troll) wearing a green jacket barred my return. That wasn’t mentioned in the loud speaker address. I was told that once you leave the course during a rain delay you cannot reenter even though there were still plenty of people inside the gates. I proceeded to provide the litany of trials that I had overcome to get to this place and this time. It didn’t matter to the green jacket. I asked to speak to a supervisor. Another green jacket was summoned. I repeated my sad story. It didn’t matter to the green jacket. I asked to quickly slip just inside the gates by the telephones to get my friends and leave again, but it didn’t matter to the green jackets. So, I stood outside the gates of paradise in the cold rain with my fresh zippers on my left knee and my chest getting colder and wetter. Finally my two companions walked to the gate and we all agreed to blow the joint! So much for the fantasy of paradise!
We drove back to the man cave complex outside Atlanta, had a couple beers with some warm food and watched the conclusion of day three on the big screen television in dry clothing. The next day we slept in and spent the balance of the day watching the final round where Phil Mickelson hit the brilliant 207 yard six iron off the pine straw on 13 through two pine trees and onto the green over menacing Rae’s Creek for a birdie and a two shot lead to clinch the 70th Masters major championship. And I still look forward every April to welcome spring by watching the tournament on television. But be careful what you wish for because I also still wince every time I see one of those green jackets!