Our first Masters experience was as impressive as everyone said it would be, maybe more so. For years we wondered, is it worth the tricky travel arrangements, worth the cost? Yes it was, at least for the Wednesday practice round. While the big screen TV gives the best play by play view, the dynamic dimensions of the spectacular course are lost by any camera.
The amazing Azaleas are striking as soon as you pass through the entry gate of Augusta National and throughout. This spring’s climate delivered the most conducive conditions for April’s bursting blooms. We hear that there is a warehouse of azaleas kept on ice to be inserted in any gap areas on the course during The Masters. Some say that’s cheating. We say that is above and beyond maintenance. While Azaleas are the most famous flowers at Augusta National, the white and pink dogwood trees and purple wisteria add to the floral kaleidoscope.
The most notable difference from watching The Masters on TV is the severity of the inclines and undulations of the greens. Most have a shelf for a particular pin placement that the television does not detect. Undulations are one thing, but these shelves rise and fall as much as three to four feet. As Nicklaus quoted, “to win the Masters, you have to master the greens.” Sergio’s 13 on 15 is completely understood.
Beyond the Masters, the town of Augusta has much to offer including the History Museum and the Morse Museum, across from the waterfront Marriott, which featured a Golf Artist Gallery with Linda Hartough’s famous works. We stayed at what we would normally call a flea bag motel, The Red Carpet Inn, usually in the $30-40 range but we booked early enough to get a $150 rate while others paid over $400 per night. It had new shower tile, good coffee and is located a few minutes from everything – better than an hour drive away as many Masters patrons choose. The pimento cheese and egg salad sandwiches were yummy for still just $1.50 and the Par 3 practice round with the pros’ families in white caddie uniforms was priceless. We watched the Oosthuizen, Immelman and Schwartzel group with wives and their little girls who played with their Barbie dolls when waiting on the tee boxes and greens. Danny Willett lasered a shot to the 9th green, one foot from the pin. His little punkin’ who looked to be about 2 or 3 picked the ball up, placed in the cup and flung his arms over his head clapping for himself with jubilation. The crowd went wild. The event humanizes our heroes. Speaking of which, Bubba Watson added some young friends with disabilities to his family affair, surely a day none of them will ever forget. Nor will we.
Another treat the next day was to play golf at Champions Retreat, a private venue, but open to the public during the week of the Masters. This master planned community with three courses designed by champion pros is nestled in the towering pines and hills just north of Augusta in Evans, Georgia. The Bluff nine by Jack Nicklaus feels like a continuation of Augusta National. Gary Player’s Creek nine concludes beside a lake featuring his home. The Island nine by Arnold Palmer is a turtle haven. Actually, they may be spotted on all the waterways. Turkeys and deer are abundant and even wild pigs like the digs.
Sam Schiff, our best ever caddie was a collegiate player at USC-Aiken. Versed in five languages he hopes to complete his studies at one of America’s leading international universities like Stanford or Harvard. We have no doubt about his success nor the success of the Champions Retreat community, especially since it will be highlighted in a new US Women’s Amateur tournament in conjunction with Augusta National the week before next year’s Masters. The opening two rounds will be held at Champions Retreat Golf Club, after which the low 30 scores will advance to play Augusta National. Anika Sorenstam calls it a dream come true, “a carrot for young girls.”