JUST CHEWING THE FAT
I'm not sure there can be a more enjoyable way to spend a Thursday afternoon than sitting in a bleacher by the side of the 15th green at Augusta National with the sun beating down, watching the best golfers in the world and chatting with a gracious couple that lives just a couple of miles away.
Barry and Norma (some of the names have been changed) are from North Carolina but moved to Augusta about 10 years ago and have been coming to the Masters for nine. Their daughter once worked in the merchandise store wrapping glass ornaments in tissue paper for 10 hours a day, while their son got a plum job in the members-only pro shop.
As locals, they are very conscious of the Augusta National Golf Club for more than one week a year like the rest of us and, though they do believe some of the members regard the town's residents as second-class citizens, they are quick to recognize the sizable contributions the club makes to the Central Savannah River Area (CSRA) Regional Commission, a non-profit development agency serving 13 counties in Central Georgia and whose mission is to 'provide planning, management and information services to its members and provide a forum for addressing local government and its citizens’ needs.' The Augusta Chronicle reported last December that Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters Tournament are also the primary donors to the Community Foundation for the CSRA's unrestricted grants program.
“The club does give millions of dollars to the CSRA,” says Barbara (name changed again), “and they like to see what impact their contributions have and what they build. They don't just want to pay for admin or someone's salary.”
The donations are significant says Bob, a medical researcher who once worked for Charles Howell III's father, a pediatric surgeon at the Medical College of Georgia. But he and Ellie-May would like to see them do more. “We don't expect them to build a float and parade down Broad Street or make soup at a homeless shelter once a week, but it wouldn't hurt to get a little more involved in the local community. They obviously have the financial resources.”
Those resources were put to use last year, says David, when a developer proposed building a high-rise condo unit on the east side of Washington Road that would be high enough to give residents views over the course. 'The club moved quickly on that one,” says Charlie. “They quashed the plan by purchasing the parcel of land. And they ensured nothing could be built on Berckmans Road opposite the patrons' entrance by buying the entire neighborhood basically. It's a large open space that they use as a parking lot for the tournament.”
Jennifer isn't sure, but she says the club may be planning on buying up another whole neighborhood nearby and building another course. “Yeah, the talk around town is that they're going to buy a neighborhood at the southern end of Berckmans Road. No one knows whether the course will be just for the members or if it will be open to the public.” There's no smoke without fire, of course, but in this case I would humbly suggest to Chris and Jane that the rumor holds less water than a microscopic thimble. But if it is true, well, just remember you read it here first.
Five-year-old Dalton Blackstone is walking up and down the right side of the 5th hole picking up litter. Dressed in a bright yellow jumpsuit with a green number 18 stamped on the back, Dalton makes continuous runs up and down the hole picking up non-existent trash that no self-respecting patron would dare to drop. A student at Burke County High School, he got the job through his father who used to work for security at the tournament. He says his job is a bit monotonous and that he's not really much of a golf fan, but he's having fun in the sun. “It's OK, I get to meet some nice people and it's a nice place,” he says. “I haven't actually spoken to any of the players but I say hi as they walk past sometimes.”
Do any of them say hi back?
“Some of them.”
“So what about compensation,” I ask. “Do they make it worth your while?” Maybe a round on the course, a sandwich and a hat, a program?
“No, they pay us money. It's definitely money.”
CHEESE OR EGG?
Queuing for lunch at the concession stand Thursday, I had a tough time choosing between the fantastic pimento cheese sandwiches I'd tried the day before and the egg salad sandwiches I'd heard great things about. Still unable to choose by the time I got inside, I had both. Delicious.
RIPPED TICKET TO RIDE
Walking beside the 14th hole, I was stopped by a gentleman in a green Masters hat who asked to see my badge, which had ripped earlier in the morning and was now in my pocket. The gentleman wasn't dressed in the white, black and red uniform of the Pinkerton security company that patrols the grounds and appears out of thin air the moment you begin walking too fast, cheering too loud or bending too far over the gallery ropes. Nor was he wearing a green jacket. So I wasn't sure who he was but figured if he was asking to see my ticket the prudent thing to do was comply with his wish.
After showing him the mangled scrap of paper, I asked if it would be possible to get a replacement as I planned on framing it like any golf geek would. He said that probably wouldn't be possible, but if I liked he could take me up to the clubhouse in his cart to inquire about getting another. I said thanks but no thanks because I was enjoying watching the golf down at the bottom of the hill so much.
Later I realized I should have accepted his offer; not because of the ticket — I still had Wednesday's badge after all — but because getting back up that hill after a day at the bottom is one tough trek.
SHOUTING INTO THE DARK
At the end of the day, Phil Mickelson headed straight for the range to work on his driver after having hit four fairways during a first-round 70. A group of 20 or so patrons sat in the bleachers in the gathering gloam unable to see where the ball was going partly because it really was getting dark and partly because Mickelson seemed to be treating his range time like we all do.
Straight out with the driver, Lefty appeared not to be working on his technique at all but just blasting the ball as far as he possibly could. Because he was wearing black trousers and a dark purple shirt, the defending champion was barely visible by the time 8:15 p.m. rolled around. The video might not have been working, but the audio was certainly impressive. Every 30 seconds or so a loud crack would pierce the cool air followed by a discernible fizz as the ball began its 320-yard journey into the night sky. (Footnote: After completing his session, Mickelson turned to the gallery and said 'Good night guys'. Nice touch Phil.)
ROGUE BLADES A few friends have emailed to ask if it's really true there isn't a blade of grass out of place at Augusta National. Of course there is ... dozens in fact … outside the ropes. Even the maintenance crew at Augusta National can't prevent 30,000 (40,000?) people from digging up a little turf. OK, they say, what about inside the ropes? “No,” I say. “Don't be silly.”