Planet Golf — 07 April 2017 by Jim Street
A memorable journey to golf heaven

AUGUSTA, Ga. — A tradition unlike any other, indeed.

That Jim Nantz description of The Masters pretty much sums up the three glorious days I got to spend on the most beautiful and historic golf course I have ever set foot on — Augusta National.

From the moment you walk through the gates, pass through the now-routine, highest-security-possible stations, past Butler’s Cabin, down the wide, paved path past the massive gift shop and up a  small incline to the first tee, everything I had been told about this place is true.

Immaculate is an understatement.

Every blade of grass is dark green, like the jacket the eventual champion will put on his back Sunday afternoon. Cameras and cellphones are not allowed on tournament days at Augusta National. Weeds are not allowed at any time.

The service is downright hospitable.

Heck, even the comfort stations are unlike any other I have experienced.

After patiently winding your way through lines that move swiftly, at least five worker-bees are inside the facility to keep the comfort station spotless. Some have brooms. Others have mops. If you leave a drop of water on the sink while washing your hands, someone is there to wipe it off with a towel.

But this was the comfort station topper: Upon entering, an attendant asks you “Stall or stand?” If you answer “stand” he directs you to the urinals. If you say “stall”, he hollers, “We have a sitter!!”

On a day like Thursday, the first and only Masters round some of my pals at Sand Point Country Club — Mark Davidson, Brian Wong and Clyde Westrom — along with Marge Chamberlain, the  key to our trip to The Masters, attended, Mother Nature made things interesting.

Winds would gust up to 40 miles in one direction, blowing branches and leaves from trees onto the immaculate fairways, and winds from the opposite direction seconds later, would blow the leaves off the fairways. Weird.

Leaves were no match for gusty Augusta winds

Our first stop was No. 1 — where the ceremonial tee shots were hit. But someone was missing. Arnold Palmer, who participated in this ceremony for many, many years, was the focal point in absence. The late golfing legend was represented by his wife and longtime friends and competitors Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player. There wasn’t a dry eye in the massive crowd as Billy Payne paid tribute to The King with words, and then led a moment of silence. You could hear a golf ball drop.

Before hitting yet another ball down the middle, Nicklaus took off his hat, waved it as he looked upward to where Arnie now resides, and patiently gathered his thoughts and emotions and swung away.

The 2017 Masters was underway before a huge crowd.

Marge, Brian and I went in one direction, Mark and Clyde in another, agreeing to meet up again at noon to chat with Sand Point Director of Golf Craig Hunter. The three of us watched some first-hole action, including a superb up-and-down for par by Seattle’s own Fred Couples, a former Masters Champ.

Meandering around the course was easy, with excellent viewing points from just about anywhere.

During a “scout-the-course” mission on Wednesday (before the rains arrived and KO’d the Par-3 tournament), we decided that a good vantage point was near the tee-shot landing zone on No. 13. We could see the green on No. 12 (Jordan Spieth’s least-favorite hole) along with the tee and green of No. 13. Restrooms were close by and so was a concession stand featuring $1.50 sandwiches and soft drinks (Coca Cola of course), and $5 beers.

The winds played havoc with some of the tee shots on 13, a par-5 over Rae’s Creek. Some landed in the pine needles in front of us. Martin Kaymer, a former U.S. champ, was one of them. He had an opening between two pine trees and figured he could split the uprights. Wrong. His ball clanked against the right pine and bounced sideways. Ouch.

Others nestled smartly in the middle of the fairway.

Our vantage point on No. 13

Phil Mickelson smoked his drive far down the fairway, the longest we had seen at that point. His second shot was a line-drive bullet that carried over the creek, over the green, and into a bunker. No problem. He sand-wedged a shot within two feet of the cup and made the putt for a birdie.

After spending a couple of hours resting some tired feet from so much walking around the awesome layout in the comfort of a Master folding chair that had been purchased ($30) at the gift shop, it was time to add a few thousand more steps.

One landing spot was at No. 16, the hole that Tiger Woods made several years ago when he pitched onto the wildly sloping green and the ball eventually, after some delay, trickled down the slope and into the hole — becoming one of the most memorable shots in Masters history.

The hole is pictured above and how it looked on Thursday.

We followed Spieth around for a few holes, but missed his “9” on No. 15. Mark saw it and did a great play-by-play later on. And who knew Charley Hoffman would be the one to go on a back-nine birdie binge that led to an opening-round 65, when just about everyone else was pleased with par? Not us.

Other impressions:

*The lay of the land is nothing like what you see on TV. The elevation changes are drastic, but apparently uncatchable by television cameras.

*There is little rough on the course.

*These guys hit the ball a mile or so and the sound of the ball coming off their club-faces is not a sound any of my clubs have ever made.

*If you ever get a chance to attend The Masters, by all means do it. It’s an experience you’ll always remember.

The chute at No. 1

 

Small part of the crowd

From left, Clyde Westrom, Mark Davidson, Brian Wong, me

 

 

The clubhouse at Augusta Country Club

The flag now has a new home in the Man Cave

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Jim Street

Jim’s 40-year sportswriting career started with the San Jose Mercury-News in 1970 and ended on a full-time basis on October 31, 2010 following a 10-year stint with MLB.com. He grew up in Dorris, Calif., several long drives from the nearest golf course. His first tee shot was a week before being inducted into the Army in 1968. Upon his return from Vietnam, where he was a war correspondent for the 9th Infantry Division, Jim took up golf semi-seriously while working for the Mercury-News and covered numerous tournaments, including the U.S. Open in 1982, when Tom Watson made the shot of his life on the 17th hole at Pebble Beach. Jim also covered several Bing Crosby Pro-Am tournaments, the women’s U.S. Open, and other golfing events in the San Francisco area. He has a 17-handicap, never had a hole-in-one, although once he came within two inches of an ace, and witnessed the first round Ken Griffey Jr. ever played – at Arizona State during Spring Training in 1990. Pebble Beach Golf Links, the Kapalua Plantation Course, Pinehurst No. 2, Spyglass Hill, Winged Foot, Torrey Pines, Medinah, Chambers Bay, North Berwick in Scotland, and Princeville are among the courses he has had the pleasure of playing. Hitting the ball down the middle of the fairway is not a strong part of Jim’s game, but he is known (in his own mind) as the best putter not on tour. Most of Jim’s writing career was spent covering Major League baseball, a tenure that started with the Oakland Athletics, who won 101 games in 1971, and ended with the Seattle Mariners, who lost 101 games in 2010. Symmetry is a wonderful thing. He currently lives in Seattle and vacations in Arizona (and other warm climates) as much as possible.

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