Memories of the Masters remain fresh decades after being planted
The Augusta National Golf Club is about to once again become the center of the golfing universe.
When the Masters tees off for real on Thursday, April 8, the competitors will be dreaming of donning the legendary green jacket that is awarded to the tournament’s winner late on Sunday afternoon.
Covering the Masters for The Meridian Star newspaper, something I was blessed to do for six years from 1985 through 1990, is certainly one of the highlights of my 45-year career as a journalist.
With this year’s event knocking on the door, let’s go down memory lane with a few facts, thoughts, memories, and opinions about one of the greatest sporting events ever.
— I can still remember walking onto the hallowed grounds of Augusta National for the first time. It was beyond description then and still is to this day. It simply must be visited to be understood. Although the television coverage of the Masters is excellent, there is simply no way to describe the undulations of those glass-fast greens. It’s almost more than the eye can comprehend.
— Watching legends Sam Sneed and Gene Sarazen strike their tee shots to open the1985 Masters was like watching the Golf Hall of Fame come to life. They only played one hole as honorary starters. Bernhard Langer, then a relatively unknown, went on to win that year, posting a two-stroke win over the threesome of Seve Ballesteros, Raymond Floyd, and Curtis Strange.
— The roar of the crowd as a player begins to mount a run on the back nine on Sunday, is unlike anything I’ve ever heard. You can magnify that by 1,000 when it is a legend on the prowl — just as it was in 1986 when Jack Nicklaus won his sixth and final Masters.
— One of the great traditions of the Masters is the pimento and cheese sandwiches wrapped in green paper available at the concession stands that are almost hidden on the course. While you can find food to eat, finding trash and debris on the course is almost impossible. Not only are groundskeepers prowling to keep the course immaculate, but the patrons themselves not only take care of their own refuse, but quickly pick up that of others.
— While there are many legendary holes at Augusta National, one of mu favorites is relatively obscure. Hole No. 7 is a 360-yard par four that is well-guarded by bunkers and owner of a two-tier green. If a player’s approach shot lands on the wrong side of the hole you can forget a birdie, with par also being in jeopardy. It requires a well-placed tee shot followed by a deft approach.
It is not uncommon to see players who find their drives and too far left choose to bounce the ball into the bunker, where they then attempt to get up and down for par.
— The respect and courtesy shown by the patrons is incredible. A spectator can claim their spot near their favorite green early in the day, and rest assured that their belongings will not be taken or even moved.
— The amazing chip-shot by Larry Mize to win the 1987 Masters in playoff fashion over Seve Ballesteros and Greg Norman. Mize, an Augusta native, was indeed a fan favorite that day.
— One of the most interesting things about August National is it’s location. It is on a busy thoroughfare as you enter Augusta from the interstate and is just down the road from shopping centers and restaurants. It just suddenly appears as though the course itself doesn’t realize anything else exists.
— The Par 3 Tournament, traditionally played on Wednesdays, draws a big crowd as well. The holes on this unique course are just as challenging as any you will find on the main course.
— Amen Corner, which consist of holes 11, 12, and 13, are as tough and imagined as advertised. The green on 11 is challenging to say the least and can turn a lead into a disaster in a hurry. The Par 3 No. 12 is as picturesque in person as it is on TV., while the Par 5 No. 13 is where the eventual winner has been determined more than once, requiring a huge, well-placed drive, and holds the possibility of an eagle.
— The people. One of the unique experiences of the Masters is the housing. The school district traditionally schedules Spring Break for the week of the tournament, allowing homeowners to rent their homes — either as a unit, or by rooms. This allows patrons to both make longtime friendships, as well as meet new people each year. Those wil always be some of my fondest memories.
— Tickets are hard to come by, and that was true pre COVID, much less now. You can forget purchasing season tickets, even the waiting lists have been closed. Your only hope is “knowing” somebody, purchasing a ticket from a broker, or winning a loser to claim the right to purchase a single-day ticket.
— The beauty of the course is breathtaking. If you could just walk the course without ever seeing anyone strike a golf ball, it would be worth the trip.
Austin Bishop, AKA The Old Sports Dude, has been covering high school, college, amateur and professional sports since 1975. He will be retiring from the journalism business at the conclusion of 2021. He is currently pastor of Great Commission Assembly of God in Philadelphia, Miss. He may be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.