Friday, March 10, 2006

Masters Approaching

I imagine that the interest percentage of those who write and read all this blog shit in professional golf is about 2%. I am going to write about golf, specifically the Masters. You 98% are warned, feel free to leave now.

I have been to the Masters five of the last six years. I cannot go this year and I officially gave my spot up yesterday to my friend ceeelcee. He's a bigshot international commodity broker. Or is that commode breaker? Anyway, he gets flown around the world on business all the time, and taken to all kinds of events (he really has a geisha story) but he has never been to the Masters. I am probably more excited for him going than he is. He will understand when he gets there.

The Masters is the hardest ticket to get in all of sports. Like the Kentucky Derby, the badges stay with their owners every year. The tournament has been sold out for decades. The waiting list for tickets was closed in 1978. I am lucky enough to have a friend from Georgia whose grandfather bought tickets way back in the day. His grandfather is from a line of very long-living people. He is in his mid 90s and going strong.

My friend has been going since he was a kid. Probably around 30 years. The first time I went, we were at his parents house, and his dad was telling me about how magical the place is, and he was getting visibly excited. The next day was going to be his 50th year of going. 50 years, and he was still as excited as a kid in a candy store. Here are some observations about the Masters that I didn't know about until I started going.

You would drive right by the main entrance if you didn't know it was there. There is an unassuming sign and a driveway on a busy street full of strip malls and chains like Hooters and Applebees.

It is unbelievably hilly. For instance, you can stand behind #10 tee all day, and see nothing but three woods being hit. It is a 495 par four, but it is like hitting off the top of a 15 story building. The valley on the par-3 sixth is so steep that people actully sit in it and the golfers hit over their heads.

There is a par-3 course there. It is famous for the par-3 tournament on Wednesday. I didn't know about it until I got there. It is the second most unbelievably beautiful golf course I have ever seen, right behind the other one next door.

There isn't a whiff of corporate sponsorship. There are no luxury boxes. The taps in the beer stands don't have a brand on them. Your choices are domestic or import. The water bottles have Masters labels on them. The sandwiches are wrapped simply in green paper. They don't chase any money. Everything is cheap. A sandwich is $1.25. A beer is $2.00. The souveniers aren't sold anywhere else in the world, yet there is no price gouging.

It is springtime in the South. There are lots of pretty young girls in sundresses, which is God's way of saying the South is the best place to be in the spring. There are always a few who obviously don't realize their frat-boy date is taking them to a golf tournament, and they struggle around the course in heels.

It often stinks. Really, really bad. It is the greenest, most beautiful place you've ever seen, and it takes a lot of fertilizer and manure to get it that way. If it has been raining a lot, it gets backed up and it stinks to high heaven, like following a convoy of pig trucks on the interstate. They never mention that on TV.

They talk about the different roars of the galleries on Sunday. It took a couple of years for me, but I've become pretty good at discerning them. A couple of years ago, we were in the stands at Amen Corner, and we heard a roar a couple hundred yards away. I said to my friends, "that was an eagle at thirteen." A man in front turned around and said, "no, it sounded like a birdie to me." A few minutes, Ernie Els eagle was posted on our scoreboard. The man turned back and said, "I guess you were right." I gloated.

They have manual scoreboards, where the numbers are pulled down and replaced by hand. Scoreboard watching on Sunday is unbelievably exciting. It sounds stupid, but it's true. You can only see your little part of the course, so you rely on the scoreboards to keep up. For instance, on the Els eagle, he was in contention. The blank gets removed for number 13 by his name and everyone in the stands goes silent and holds their breath and stares at the board. When the new number is put up, there are cheers and high-fives all around. It sounds silly, but it is true.

My dad got me involved in golf when I was 7 or 8. I've been watching the Masters my whole life. It always signaled the official nearness of summer and the end of school. If you're not a golf fan, but you read this anyway, you probably don't get it. The five Sundays I spent there are five of the best days I've ever had. I've seen Jack and Arnie and Tiger and Phil play. I've seen holes in one, and holed out bunker shots. I was standing right there at 16 when Tiger made his chip-in against DiMarco. I wish I could go this year. But I know my friend will love it.


At 1:55 PM , Blogger HUCK said...

The Masters... *sigh*

I was once one of those low life wannabes who sleazed around the Senior circuit along with his middle management cronies; visions of wearing green Masters caps dancing through our heads. Oh we knew people who would offer to bring us one back, but of course, we always turned them down. After all, we had to at least try and retain some dignity, as we pub-crawled from one vendor tent to another.

At 1:57 PM , Blogger Ryan said...

I cannot stress to you how perfectly you've nailed it. Bravo! I lived in Augusta for 30 years and have had the honor of going to the Tournament a half dozen times. I am not a golfer but I appreciate and respect the sport.

I have described the National to people for years now as "heaven on earth." Walking onto that course gives me a peace that I've rarely known.

Your descriptions of #10 and the roars of the galleries is dead on. That sound is as exhilarating as anything in sports. Don't know if you were there in '87, but the sound of the gallery when Mize chipped in for the win was as chilling as the shot itself.

You've made me homesick today.


At 2:29 PM , Blogger bridgett said...

I don't get golf, but I get the love of a maddening game played on a deep green field in the summertime and the passion that can only come from watching the best do their thing live. (I'm a baseball nut myself.)

Nice writing.

At 5:10 PM , Blogger ceeelcee said...

I can't yet begin to express my gratitude for the chance to go to Augusta this year. I've been on the outside looking in for many years and need to thank Senor Knuck L. Head for giving up his spot, our mutual buddy for procuring one of the family tickets for me, and our friend the DogDoc for brokering the deal. I'll try to put my impressions into bytes when I get back.

As a matter of fact, I think I'll post the sad story of what I was doing last year when Tiger chipped in on 16. It's yet another sad story of business luxury travel gone horribly wrong.

At 10:01 AM , Blogger Peggasus said...

I almost felt like I was there!

My brother-in-law's college roomate is from there, and his family belongs to Augusta, so he has been able to go a few times, the lucky dog.

I'd go just for the $2.00 beers. Wow. I think they were at least $6.50 or so when the U.S. Open was held at Olympia Fields here in Chicagoland a few years ago.

My golf league starts in six weeks. I can't wait.


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