Live from The Masters - Masters Diary, Day One
It's hard to describe the overwhelming sensation the moment you step foot through the gates of Augusta National for the very first time.
"Going in as a golfer is like a Muslim going to Mecca," explained Mickey, a chap from Harpenden in England's south-east, making the pilgrimage to golf's holy land for the third time. Augusta simply is the most beautiful piece of golfing real estate imaginable - from the manicured turf, to the towering Georgia pines and the charm of the clubhouse and surrounding facilities.
Television and photos do not do it justice - it is absolutely stunning. Even through the fog which engulfed the grounds like a thick blanket of smoke, you could see the course was starting to burst with colour. The slick greens already had a tinge of yellow to them. And there was a genuine buzz about the place, even without Tiger Woods around for the first time in 20 years because of recent back surgery.
"Augusta simply is the most beautiful piece of golfing real estate imaginable. Television and photos do not do it justice - it is absolutely stunning."
Trent Hile, YGT's Editor
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And so, I head in...
After a short wait at the entrance (note: leave your phone at the hotel or face the ignominy of being turned away by security), I first made my way to the practice range where I caught sight of Darren Clarke with a wedge in hand on the adjacent short-game area. The popular exclamation among fellow observers was "Darren Clarke? That couldn't be..." - a compliment to the Dazzler's new slimline figure which he will debut at the Masters this week.
Augusta's practice range is as impeccable as the course, complete with azaleas, pines and rolling terrain. It has four target greens and several strategically placed trees that serve as additional aiming points, the furthest of which is some 315 yards away. There I sat in the 570-padded-seat grandstand behind the range, watching Jim Furyk's perculiar uncoil with a driver, Dustin Johnson hit a wedge as far as my 6-iron, and Matthew Fitzpatrick, a 19-year-old from England making his first Masters appearance after winning last year's US Amateur. I can only imagine the thrills he will experience this week.
From there, I weave through the traffic streaming from the Tesco-sized merchandise tent (it's on tomorrow's to-do list) and emerge next to the main scoreboard. In front of me is Augusta's first hole, dubbed "Tea Olive" , and John Senden and Harris English bomb two down the middle to begin their dress rehearsal for Thursday's opening round. It's here you get a sense of just how much elevation change there is on the course. The 10th in particular drops away rather spectacularly, making for a great vantage point to enjoy unimpeded views towards the green.
In front of me is a row of empty fold-out chairs. Are their owners testing fate? Not at Augusta. Among its many quirky traditions is the fact you can set up a chair almost anywhere on the course, leave it there, and no one will touch it.
Jason Day makes his way up the famous 18th in a group that includes 2003 champion Mike Weir. The 26-year-old hasn't played a competitive round of golf since his victory at the WGC-Accenture Match Play six weeks ago due to a wounded left thumb. If it weren't for the injury, I'd be investing a few nights' drink budget on the 2011 runner-up to go one-better this week. Still, he inspires some confidence as he bounces a chip from the back of the green - some ten feet in front of me - onto the putting surface and watches as it rolls threateningly over the left edge of the cup.
I begin to head towards the 10th tee when the dreaded sound of a siren rings out over the course, indicating that a thunder storm is fast approaching. I head for shelter, following Day back up the hill towards the clubhouse. A teenage patron approaches the World No. 4 and asks politely, "Excuse me Mr Day, but may I please have your golf ball?" He tosses the youngster a TaylorMade ball distinguished by a small green dot. The boy is soon swamped by his mates, all keen to get a peek at his new trophy.
The crowd begins to surge towards the patron corridor where a nearby concession stand can provide liquid comfort against the approaching...
STAT / PLAYER OF THE DAY
The weather won today... Play suspended due to the threat of thunderstorms, we'll be back tomorrow...
|Darren Clarke on the range||The iconic scoreboard||The famous Masters Chair, a must for all patrons|
...rain. I catch sight of Craig and Kevin Stadler, who will soon become the first father-son combo to play in the same Masters. The stoutly-built duo are a throwback to an era before the Tigers, Dustin Johnsons and Adam Scotts of the game ... a simpler time, before dumbbells and diets.
Just as I near our destination, tragedy strikes. The announcement sounds out that the course is now closed, and along with it all patron services - eventually cancelling the practice round for the first time since 2003.
As the rain begins to bucket down, one eager patron yells, "Everyone get to Hooters!"
And so they do.