It was almost like a Twilight Zone episode. Everything looked the same...
...from the main Masters scoreboard, still sporting the flags all of the nations represented at this year's tournament...
...to the big oak tree, guarding the facade of the clubhouse.
But there were NO fans...ahem, no patrons. It was almost eerie to be one of only a handful of people on the grounds, when you're used to seeing thousands surrounding the fairways and greens. And it made the course look SO much bigger.
See how wide open it looks from the top of the hill--even the delivery truck looks small in the background!
Luckily, it also played wide open. Augusta National's fairways are extremely generous (thanks goodness), with the only exception being some sloping edges on certain holes (like the dogleg at 2). I needed all the room I could get. When I stood on the 1st tee, and looked out on the vista I've seen dozens of times on TV or in person, my knees were shaking and I could barely get the club back.
That hill looks awfully imposing. Luckily, my adrenaline kicked in, and I blasted the ball just left of the bunker. I was in good shape off the tee, but in the story of my day, my woes would come once I reached the green. I had numerous chances at par that turned into three-putt bogeys. The greens at Augusta National are the great equalizer, and even though they played slower due to the Sunday rain, they were still plenty fast enough to wreak havoc with my putting.
But there were highlights amid the beauty and the godawful putting. Like the 6th green, seen above with one of my playing partners. I flew the green but chipped delicately within 2 feet of the hole and finished off my par. Yes, par at Augusta, It was a thrill I'll remember every time I see this hole played by the pros in the future.
I see the clubhouse again--we must be getting ready to make the turn!
The course was exactly as it was when Adam Scott emerged victorious over Angel Cabrera Sunday night, minus the rain. The pins were in their Sunday positions, so we could picture ourselves in the heat of the final round competition.
It was like a time warp on Monday, with the traditional hand-operated scoreboards still showing how the hopes of most came crashing back down late Sunday, with the exception of Scott and Cabrera.
The 10th hole (officially named Camelia) has always been one of my favorites, perhaps because it used to be the first hole we saw when CBS signed on for its weekend TV coverage. Or maybe it's because my favorite golfer, Ben Crenshaw, took a huge step toward his first Green Jacket with a monster putt on 10 in 1984. Or maybe it's because of the challenge golfers face to shape their shots down the sloping hill. Whatever the reason, here I am--staring my own tee shot down the hill.
11 was not as tough for us (playing from the members' tees) as it was for the pros, but it's still a devilish test. Here's the putt I had for par, downhill and toward the pond. Needless to say, I didn't make par, or bogey. Sad.
I have a picture of the 12th hole hanging in my house. But to take my own photo as I prepared to hit a tee shot from historic Amen Corner--priceless.
Up, away and safely in the middle of the green...where I would again three-putt. Oh, well, at least I got to make the walk across the Hogan Bridge for the first time.
That's a walk in a lot of legendary golfers' footsteps.
It's a gorgeous slice of the world--the view of the 12th hole and the 13th tee.
And looking back one last time on my trip inside the ropes at 12.
I got a little picture-happy on the 2nd nine. Luckily, caddy Ryan was always happy to accomodate.
I knew I needed a little something extra to get around the bend and have a chance at the green in 2 on 13. I wound up in the Mickelson straw and had to lay up, instead.
Unfortunately, it was soon after 13 that our phones started buzzing with the news of the Boston Marathon bombings. We all got distracted, and I stopped taking a lot of photos.
But one memory of that 2nd nine will always stand out, even if I don't have the picture to prove it. On 16, where Jack Nicklaus left tracks in 1975, and where Tiger had that magical chip-in from behind the green in 2005. I admittedly plunked my tee shot at the par-3 in the water. So, splash in 1, out in 2. I'm hitting my third shot off the tee now, and it goes long and right. From just off the fringe, and with caddy Ryan's help on the read, I rolled it up into the back middle of the green, then let it feed down the hill...and into the cup. Bogey, but a dramatic one that had our entire group cheering.
Meant to snap a picture of the Eisenhower tree and forgot. Luckily I managed to navigate my way around it on 17.
18 looks even more intimidating in person than it does on TV. Check out the narrow chute leading to a very steep hill that doglegs right up to the green where so many have made the triumphant Sunday walk.
And just like that, it was over. We walked up 18, traded congratulations, took one last look around...and headed for our cars. One magical day of golf, a day inside historic Augusta National, and a round I could only dream about until Monday. And I'll dream of another one...when I'm again eligible to play the course in 2022.
I can wait that long, I guess.
I won't try to put into words the beauty of Augusta National Golf Club. Too many and far better writers have tried and come up short. I will just say this: if you've only seen the course on TV, even in HD, the picture doesn't do it justice. And for those who've made it to the Masters over the years, being "inside the ropes" gives you a far greater appreciation for the remarkable landscape of the former nursery.
First up, the amazing (and relatively new--who said Augusta National never changes) players' practice facility. It's a driving range and so much more, with several simulated holes, bunkers and putting greens for practice.
It's almost as pretty as the course itself, and obviously gets just as much attention from the groundskeepers. It was here that I met my caddy, Ryan.
There he was, in the regulation white jumpsuit and Augusta National cap, instantly sizing up my game and realizing just what he was in for on Monday afternoon. Ryan was a godsend on the greens, reading every putt perfectly and knowing exactly what line to take. He had my distance down in just minutes, pulling the right club for each shot on the course.
Ryan also made some unintentionally hilarious comments about my clubs. Let's face facts, I'm not Tiger, so I'm not constantly being shipped the latest and greatest equipment from the world's top manufacturers. But I thought what I had in the bag was suitable--until I drove into the gates at Augusta National. Ryan pulled out one of my irons and said "wow, I haven't seen anyone use these in years". Later, he pulled a head cover off one of my older woods, grimaced, then replaced the cover and said "that one belongs in a museum". He didn't mean to be insulting, and I laughed along with him after he realized what he said.
Okay, hit a few putts (notice how far past the hole I had drilled my first one--that would be the story of the day) and it's on to the game. Next up, it's time to play!
I had an awesome day playing Augusta National yesterday...at least, it was awesome, until my phone began buzzing (yes, you can have a cellphone there when the Masters isn't being played) with news on the bombings at the Boston Marathon. Needless to say, we were all distracted by the news, and my most memorable round of golf at the sport's most famous setting became an afterthought. We didn't even mention it on Columbia's Morning News this morning.
Still, I wanted to share a few details, because I got access into that exclusive golf club for an exciting few hours...starting with the drive that only members, guests and Masters competitors (and the occasional CBS camera crew) get to experience.
Snapped that pic from my car as I drove up Magnolia Lane. What a thrill!
One of the biggest photo stops at Augusta National is Founders Circle. You'll see people line up for hours during the tournament to get a shot of the roundabout that features the yellow flower bed planted in the shape of the Masters logo. In fact, you can see the worn spot in the turf where thousands have posed over the last 7 days. But I got the drive-by picture, no waiting!
When I pulled up to the front door of the clubhouse, my clubs were taken to the practice range, while I was escorted into the Champions Locker Room to change my shoes. Yes, I went up the same stairs to the 2nd floor space where those who've won the Masters venture each day of the tournament--where they have a private place to store their belongings, slip into their spikes, and grab a bite before their rounds begin.
Here's a display in the Champions Locker Room with the iconic Green Jacket and trophy--a sterling replica of the clubhouse.
Wondering whose locker I wound up using?
Two-time Masters champion Jose-Maria Olazabal. Not bad!
A few lockers down from me, a familiar four-time champion.
That's Tiger's locker. He "shares" with Jack Burke, Jr. There are only 28 of these oak lockers, so Masters champions typically double-up.
One player's nameplate is longer than the others, because he's the only player to win six times at Augusta.
Jack Nicklaus' locker. The Golden Bear "shares" with the first player to win the Masters, Horton Smith.
I love presidential history, and the clubhouse is full of references to Dwight Eisenhower, who became a member of Augusta National and made 45 visits over the years. In the rear of the Locker Room, there's a display featuring the 34th President's clubs, books and other mementos.
After I soaked in all of the history, I gathered my gear and headed back downstairs, passing the ever-present image of Clifford Roberts, who co-founded the club with Bobby Jones.
On to the relatively new players' practice facility! In my next update!
Here it is, the coveted invite to play Augusta National!
I've been covering the Masters for years (1997 was Tiger's first win at Augusta and my first Masters as a media member). For most of those years, I've entered my name in the media lottery to play the course on the Monday after the tournament.
I've had no luck in the lottery...until yesterday, when I came off the course to see my name posted on the video board in the media center. Wow! Opened a sealed envelope to see the invitation and take it all in.
I'll drive up Magnolia Lane, change shoes in the Champions' Locker Room, have lunch on the clubhouse veranda, then meet my caddy and tee off for what should be an adventure (for me and for my caddy--he has no idea what he's in for).
I'll share details and photos tomorrow!
This was the media room bar being set up as Adam Scott slipped on his Green Jacket at Augusta National.
A lot of water-logged broadcasters and reporters probably knocked back a few stiff ones after a long weekend of work (hopefully after they filed their stories).
I didn't sample...since I had a one-hour drive home, an early wake-up call, and a big day on the course set for Monday!