Azaleas, emerald-leafed plants and world’s best at The Masters
The quiet, almost reverential surroundings – broken only so often by the birds also celebrating spring and humans seeing special golf shots by the world’s best players – become the focus of the sporting world this weekend in Augusta, Georgia.
It’s the always-awaited Masters Tournament, where long shadows cast by long Georgia Pines and perfectly carved hillsides adorned with blossoming trees, shrubs of pastel pinks, oranges and reds and wisteria vines clinging to trunks of trees are barely outdone by golfers from the world over.
The Rites of Spring. The world outside the cloistered magnolias, Rae’s Creek, professional golf’s first grand slam event of the year and thousands of necks craning to get a glimpse of Jordan Spieth, Rory McIIroy, Jason Day, Phil Mickelson, Rickie Fowler and Bubba Watson.
Immaculately manicured greens. Fairways draped in shadows from the lush foliage. Pimento cheese sandwiches for the legions with tickets to enter the near-hallowed grounds. Watery graves awaiting the errant shots on holes No. 11, No. 12, No. 13, No. 15 and No. 16.
Eagles there for the brave of heart and faultless aim on the par fives of the back nine.
Was that a vision of Bobby Jones there in the gently swaying trees on No. 17? Will legends Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player catch more attention than those contenders from Australia, Spain, Northern Ireland and South Africa?
Whose week will be crowned with the wearing of the green jacket, symbol of the championship?
Inside Augusta National, even if for just a week, the troubles of the outside world seem stilled for a time. Tickets are so hard to come by that they are left in wills to sons, nephews and valued in-laws by those lucky enough to have secured them in some long ago bout of good fortune.
Bobby Jones was more than a Georgia Cracker when he was winning as an amateur in Augusta, a nondescript town just across the Savannah River from the state of South Carolina. Jones and other self-appointed southern aristocrats started Augusta National as their sanctuary against change. The outside world was invited in once a year to see what spectacular natural beauty and the best golfers on earth could do in the reserved quiet of their amphitheater of blended color, blue skies and much-revered conversation about the past greats of the most-civilized sport going.
Gene Sarazen’s double-eagle over the water on No. 15. Nicklaus’s gulping the Fountain of Youth when he won in 1986 at age 46. Ben Crenshaw saying all the right and proper things about Augusta National when the likable Texan won. Bobby Jones winning on his home grounds so many years ago now.
Eisenhower’s Cabin where the two-term President and lover of golf stayed when he visited. “Ike” hit a pine tree so often with his drives off the No. 17 tee that the tree was called the “Eisenhower Pine”. Gone now, the victim of a storm, the ground where it grew is still noted by the CBS announcers given the call of the event by the board that governs everything that is Augusta National.
Thursday through Sunday. The world watches. Dogwood blossoms. Dogleg holes. Pine straw to hold wayward shots. Pine trees to reach toward the cloud-laced skies. Leaderboards with names known far and wide. Ponds waiting to elevate scores when they are invaded by a shot sliced into them.
There may be frost and searing winds through much of the country.
But at Augusta National there are narrow fairways complimented by scenery not seen on municipal courses or country clubs that peddle more than pimento cheese sandwiches.
And on Sunday evening there will be a winner wearing the green jacket symbolic of his taming the lightning-quick greens, back nine on Sunday afternoon and undulating fairways designed to keep scores from getting too far under par.