This is a story about the Masters Golf Tournament in Augusta, Georgia, not a story about the famous artists, called the masters. I know less about the masters, than The Masters. Tickets for the Masters Tournament itself are difficult, to say the least. They are included in wills, and Trusts, handed down from generation to generation. But anyone can enter a lottery for tickets to the practice rounds on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, before the tournament starts.
I was fortunate to get some tickets via the yearly lottery, and decided to go. My son was in school,, and my golf buddy Mike, can’t stand the good old boys from the South. So, I made the trek by myself. I knew a few people in Charleston, and a few business associates in Columbia, so it would be a good chance to renew some friendships. Columbia is a college town, and appeared to be very clean and well kept.
I flew into Columbia, South Carolina on a Saturday, and decided to drive over to Charleston on Sunday. Everything you have seen or read about Charleston is true. It is a charming part of the old south. It has beautiful old plantation style homes, ornate street fixtures, horse drawn carriages, and remnants of the slavery days. I was not disappointed.
Driving around town gave me an idea what the old south was like. Lots of narrow streets, homes with servant quarters in the back, everything painted white. It is a big tourist mecca, with a big flea market held in the former stalls where slaves were auctioned. It felt rather eerie to walk through these stalls, even though there are no remnants of the dark period of slavery in this country. The famous Charleston Place is a big attraction, for shopping, dining, and just hanging out. The downtown shopping area is a mix of old and new. It made for an enjoyable walk, and a quick stop for lunch at a typical southern style bar and fry.
But the reason for the trip came the next day. I left for Augusta, about an hour and a half drive, early on Monday morning. The drive from Columbia, just north of the Georgia border, took me down into northern Georgia. I followed the signs on the Interstate to Augusta. To my surprise, Augusta is a dirty little town, with lots of stale looking businesses and regional chain food outlets. It looks a little depressing, and I wondered if something was wrong.
I finally turned into the parking lot and grounds of the Augusta National Golf Club. It appeared to be a big green slice of prosperity, sitting right in the middle of a blighted town. My first glimpse of famous Magnolia Lane and the equally famous clubhouse assured me that Augusta was the club of millionaires and billionaires. I saw the giant motor homes of Davis Love III and John Daly, parked in huge parking lot.
Walking on to the grounds, the course is magnificent. The magnolias and azaleas are in full bloom, the grass is greener than the money that built it. But despite its rich heritage, some things are still the same. Food and drink are plentiful and cheap. Headache powders can be purchased at the concession stands. Pimento sandwiches, and sweetened tea are plentiful.
Augusta National Golf Club, located in the city of Augusta, Georgia, is one of the most storied and exclusive golf clubs in the world. Founded by Bobby Jones and designed by Alister MacKenzie on the site of a former indigo plantation, the club opened for play in January 1933. Since 1934 it has played host to the annual Masters Tournament, one of the four major championships in professional golf. Members include: Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Sam Nunn, T. Boone Pickens, and Jack Welch.
I asked the security man if I can get a closer look at Butler Cabin. This is where the Chairman of the Augusta National GC and the former champ slip the green jacket onto the champion on national TV. It is a small, simple four sided cabin, probably smaller than most of the master bedrooms we live in. The huge oak tree at the back of the clubhouse is where most of the significant tv interviews take place. Most of the signs are manual throughout the course.
I got to see most of the big name players come through, except for Tiger. He skipped practice on Monday. The big crowds followed Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia, and Ernie Els. The villains of golf, like Colin Montgomerie, Nick Faldo, and John Daly, also drew their share of crowds and heckles.
I made my way out to Amen Corner, where so many champions are made or destroyed. I saw the famous Sarazen Bridge, I saw the par 3, 16th green, where Tiger made his famous chip from over the green. It is a magical place, full of legends and history. It does not look like a world famous golf course, and host of one of the biggest sporting events in the world. It is a simple, old, well manicured place, set in the middle of a rundown old town.
Now, when I watch the Masters on TV, I have a new perspective. A bunch of prosperous old farts who built an ultra exclusive men’s club in the middle of a southern white ghetto. It is a glorious place. But the blight and poverty of the area really contrast the problems of our country. This is not the place to find a solution. But it sure sends a message about the “haves” and the “have nots”.
One last note, despite my ranting about Augusta National, I pursue every little lead when it comes to securing a tee time here. It is every golfer’s dream to play this course at least once in a lifetime. Will it ever happen? I am not counting on it, but the more people I meet, my chances get better.