AUGUSTA — ‘A tradition unlike any other’ returned to our own South Georgia backyard Monday, and after rain showered over the historically beautiful property of Augusta National Golf Club last week, the course is more exquisite than ever.
"The grass has taken better than I’ve ever seen it before," Augusta National Chairman Billy Payne said Monday. "We judge the course by the 13th hole, and by Thursday, I’d expect it be in perfect shape for the tournament."
If day one of the 2011 Masters’ week is any indication, Payne’s assessment looks like a two-foot tap-in. Thousands upon thousands of patrons trekked across the pristine paths of Augusta National Monday, and by day’s end, the course looked like its only inhabitants were horticulturalists.
The beauty of the grounds, however, rich with azaleas lavishing the course’s perimeter, isn’t the only ‘unlike any other’ symbol of Augusta National. The game of golf, free of any corporate signage, certainly qualifies.
As does the Southern hospitality of the staff, many of whom serve as volunteers, all eager to snap a picture or help a patron’s experience in countless ways. There’s even an international community influx, perhaps unmatched by any other annual gathering in the U.S., which makes The Masters ‘unlike any other’ a justified reputation.
Now in my third year of covering The Masters for the Statesboro Herald, I’ve found that the draw of Augusta National is different for every patron. For some, it’s simply the tradition, celebrated this year in the form of the tournament’s 75th anniversary and the 25th year following Jack Nicklaus’ sixth and final Augusta victory at the age of 46.
But make no mistake; whether it’s for the tradition, the beauty, the golf, the hospitality, the community, or some combination of them all, there is a draw to Augusta National for everyone.
A worldwide extravaganza a mere 90 miles from Bulloch County, attending The Masters should be a ‘bucket list’ item for practically every South Georgia citizen. If you’ve been, you know its allure for you. If you haven’t, now you have a chance.
Known as one of the toughest tickets in all of sports and with a waiting list dating back to 1971, Augusta National announced Monday that it will make a limited number of Masters Tournament badges available to the public through its website, Masters.com, beginning in 2012. With a summer application deadline, a random selection process will determine the patrons allowed to buy a daily tournament badge each year. The actual number of badges being allotted was not released.
Personally, I would like to encourage every Statesboro citizen to apply through this process. I have nothing to gain and no ulterior motive. This is simply a place that everyone needs to experience. The way this piece of Earth appeals to my senses — the view of undulating grass speckled with spectators, the feel of air as I walk onto these hallowed grounds — is something that I cherish every single day that I’m here.
I think you will too. Join me when can. Until then, I’ll be here as often as possible.
Follow Vince’s coverage of The Masters LIVE all week on Twitter at www.twitter.com/vincejohnson.