"The golf links lie so near the mill that almost every day
The laboring children can look out and watch the men at play."
- Sarah Noracliffe Cleghorn
I live 3 miles from the Augusta National Golf Club, a 10-minute drive at the most but I allowed 45. Fifteen minutes after I left home I was walking through gate 9, the first time I'd ever been 30 minutes early for anything. But then, a little more than a dozen years ago, that was the first time I'd ever been to The Masters.
I grew up thinking golf was something other people did, those who didn't work all day and could afford the equipment, or those who had bad hearts and were told by their doctors to get more exercise. My father had the advice but not the time or money to follow it.
Those who had the essentials drove up to the only pasture in our whole farming community that didn't have cows inside the fence, and spent the day playing golf. On a good day there might be a dozen cars in the yard. We lived less than a mile from that course, but the only time I went there was to visit my friend, Alice. Her father owned the course. She didn't play golf, either.
But golf grew on me, not because I took up the game but because I moved to Georgia where, it seemed, everybody within a hundred miles of Augusta loves golf. Like rodeos in Texas, skiing in the Bavarian Alps and cooking lobster in a pot of seaweed along my native New England coast, when in Rome...
What you anticipate or dread, I've been told, will never be as good or as bad as you think. Wrong. All I'd heard about the Augusta National - the flowers, the manicured grasses, the professional way the planners plan and the players play, and the courtesy of the fans - was an understatement. It was more beautiful, more professional, more exciting and more fun than I could have dreamed.
It helped to have my golf-literate son along to explain the intricacies of the game: "The one whose ball is farthest from the green plays first ... The players wear one glove because they grip the club with one hand and guide it with the other ... You don't go into the water to get your ball. You just add a stroke to your score... ."
I think I was most impressed by the intense concentration of the players. As we approached the green where Nick Faldo was playing, the gallery controller motioned for us to stand still. "Faldo doesn't like any movement around him at all," he said. I also watched for nearly 10 minutes as Tom Watson walked back and forth between his out-of-bounds ball and the out-of-sight hole, planning the strategy that finally resulted in a par score. I didn't know anyone except us musicians worked that hard at their craft. I felt bonded to them. I understand the pressure to "play" well.
I listened to the predictions - "Norman's year; Vijay's hot; don't count Nicklaus out" - and saw the favorites fall like rain drops as newcomers surged ahead. In the end a young Spaniard named Jose Maria Olazabal, who grew up with a putter and golf ball in his hands instead of a baseball and bat, concentrated the hardest and played his green-jacket best.
As we followed the crowd between greens I scanned the crowd looking for familiar faces, a celebrity perhaps. Other than a local TV sports announcer and some of the newspaper crew, everyone looked about as ordinary, sunburned and footsore as we did at the end of our wonderful, 10-hour day.
he whole experience was a gift - the tickets, the weather, and the company of my son and grandson. Best of all, I didn't have to be defensive anymore about living "three miles from the Augusta National" without ever having been inside.
Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to seabara at aol.com.
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