Friday, April 09, 2010

My Trip to The Masters 2008 Re-visited

I have to admit that I have sat here a while trying to figure out a way to best describe the events of the past few days and truly I am at a loss for words. As a sports fan, there are events that you participate in and there are events that you attend and then there are there are those events that you can only truly really experience….

And then there is The Masters.

Lets get one thing out of the way first before we even begin to get to the rest of the awesomeness that is Augusta. Everyone I have ever spoken to about attending the Masters and every article I have ever read about attending the Masters have all said the same thing. You must have one of the fabled Pimento Cheese Sandwiches. They are spoken of in reverential fashion and they have been granted an almost godlike status. So when we got to the hallowed grounds of the Augusta Country Club, one of the first things we did after hitting the golf shop (more on that later), watching Tiger Woods putt on the practice green (and based on his performance he needed to spend more time here) and touching the fairway grass (well, that was just me but again more on that later) was to go and find a concession stand so that we too could partake of the glorious goodness of the Pimento Cheese Sandwich. I paid my $1.50 and ripped through the opaque green wrapping and took a huge bite…….

Let me now also be the one to tell you that the legendary Pimento Cheese Sandwich is obviously a cruel practical joke perpetuated on an unknowing & gullible golfing public by the green jacket clad members of the Augusta Country Club and all those who have fallen victim in the past. Though I have never tried it myself, I am now convinced that a tub of spackle has the same consistency and probably tastes better than this yellow hued mess that was globbed & spread between two pieces of Wonder Bread. You take that first big bite with relish & gusto and truly expect to see God or at least Bobby Jones. Your tastebuds immediately begin to tell you that this is a mistake of truly epic proportions but your mind rejects this information and tells you that it really can’t be this bad and that surely the next bite will be better but it’s not. In fact, with each ensuing bite it only gets worse but you continue to eat it because all of your life you have heard about how you have to have to experience the glorious goodness of the Pimento Cheese Sandwich at The Masters. As you finally force that final bite into your mouth you begin to realize that not only have you been truly suckered but that you have also just joined a fraternity of countless thousands that have also fallen victim to this cruel & insidious inside joke. As you forcibly swallow that last bite you make a silent vow that somehow, some way, someone will pay for this……

But I digress…….now I have been to more than a few golf tournaments over the years. I have seen the PGA championship, I have been to a regular tour event, I have been to see the women and I have been to see the Senior’s Tour and none of these events can even come close to the (hold on let me put on the mantle of hyperbole given to all sportscasters working for CBS & ESPN) majesty that is Augusta. It is a course and club that is truly built for one reason and one reason only. To put on the best golf tournament of the year. From the minute you set foot on the hallowed grounds you are enveloped in the history and spectacle that are The Masters. You can also catch a whiff of Disney in the proceedings when you pass the Golf Shop with it’s 20+ cash registers and UPS shipping depot right next door. But enough of that, let’s get to real reason a golf fanatic like me is really there. It’s because any other week of the year I have a better chance of finding Osama Bin Laden in an Afghani cave than I do setting foot on the course. Come June 1 this course will be shut & locked down tighter than my daughter’s bedroom door on prom night. So when I got the call from Goose letting me know that a spot had opened in a corporate boondoggle junket and it was mine for the taking, well I just about ran all the way to Georgia. The weekend is still pretty much a blur so I will do my best to remember some of the highlights.

We flew into Columbia, SC and I couldn’t help but notice the big highway sign for Maurice’s BBQ on the road to Augusta. (edit: old reference)

Went to Wild Wings our first night. Apparently just about every hooker in the greater Atlanta area had the same idea. And who can blame them ? It was a target rich environment filled with drunken businessmen with corporate expense accounts. It was such a target rich environment that even wingchicks had their choices. And I am sorry to say but the wings were hardly wild…..

The first thing you notice about Augusta is the grass. You could putt from just about anywhere on the course. The second thing you notice is the hill that you need to climb to get to the Clubhouse, 1st Tee and practice green. The next thing I noticed was Tiger Woods 10 feet in front of me walking to the practice green. The guy is cut like a free safety in the NFL and he has serious game face. He started out putting one handed with tees stuck in the green the length of his putter apart. He hit 20 in a row that way. He should have kept putting that way the rest of the weekend because despite the best efforts of Jim Nantz & CBS, Tiger was NEVER in it. I couldn’t help but watch as all the other players on the green took glances and long looks at Tiger’s ritual & warm up. Trevor Immelman was already out on the course so I don’t think that he was intimidated.

As we walked down the 10th fairway towards “Amen Corner” I got down on my hands & knees and rubbed the grass. It wouldn’t be the last time I would do it over the weekend either. As I began to look around I was surprised at how hilly the course was. One local writer described walking the course as a long trip on a stairmaster. As we came down the 11th fairway the legendary “Amen Corner” came into view and I was brought back to my one time playing Tour 18 in Houston where I was long on my approach to # 11 and wound up in the water at Sawgrass. Not quite the same here. We scored great seats in the front row of the stands and got to watch the approach shots into # 11 – the tee shots on the Par 3 # 12 – and the tee shots on # 13. Just a prime viewing location. We later discovered thanks to achance meeting with 2 Time Masters Champion Ben Crenshaw that the 12th green is built on an old cemetery and the players all believe that the spirits have a lot to do with balls either winding up in Rae’s Creek or somehow miraculously staying up at the lip of the water. Many a tourney has been both won & lost here and Tom Weiskopf will forever be remembered for his 12 on the 12th – which is most likely what I would shoot since the winds are fickle and the putting surface is like warped glass. We waited for Tiger to come through and the masses that follow him before we ventured further.

It’s interesting to note the spectators at the Masters. Everyone is wearing a golf shirt & hat either right from the pro shop or from their various clubs around the country. A great many women are also there and some of them – no a great many of them – obviously had no idea where they were going or what they were doing because they were wearing heels on a golf course. My feet were hurting in my Nikes so I can’t imagine how they were feeling. You could also tell which guys were strictly there for the drinking and partying – though that aspect is much more subdued at Augusta than any other tourney I have ever been to. This is no Phoenix Open. It was fun spotting the women who were there guy watching and which ones were golf groupies. A special tip of the hat goes to the chick in the red cocktail dress on the 9th hole on Friday – no bra, half dollar sized erect nipples and a tiny red thong that kept getting exposed for all to see whenever a gust of wind came up. More than one player smiled back at her as they walked off the 8th green and then again off the 9th tee – 2 shows for the price of 1…..but I digress……

On both Thursday & Friday I wound up watching the action around the 16th hole because from the hillside to the left of the hole you could see the 15th green and the 6th green not to mention the turtles climbing on the banks on the 16th green. This was also the hole that Ian Poulter aced on Thursday and birdied on Friday to put himself in 3rd place going into the weekend. It should also be noted that after I spotted the 4 young women making a late night beeline to Ian at the hospitality house party on Friday that it was no surprise at all that Ian faded from the top of the leaderboard on Saturday. Again I want to praise the Augusta fans for the tradition of setting out your chair at a hole and being able to come back hours later to find the chair & your bag still there and untouched. Everyone is watching out for everyone else and I really believe that some people are just so in awe of the place and actually being there that they forget to be dirtbags and steal stuff.

As we left the course on Friday night I once again got down on my hands and knees and rubbed the grass on the 7th & 1st fairways and stood at yard maker 119 yards out and thought to myself, “I could miss that shot”…..I don’t know if I will ever get back to Augusta and to play the course would be an 18 hole wet dream but I felt a connection & spirituality to the place that was like no other. I have played many of golf’s great courses and walked several more but it is quite clear to me that there is only one Augusta Country Club and there is only one Masters. Congratulations to Trevor Immelman. You held on and mastered the monster for your own green jacket. Tiger may have come in 2nd but he was a pussycat compared to the South African this week……

And that is the view for now from Behind The Shades….swampy abides…

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