I had the privilege this year of attending one of the practice rounds of the Masters Tournament at Augusta National. I went with my brother and his two best friends.
I am not a golfer but I wanted to see this famous place in person, and with someone who cherishes it.
I cannot appreciate the course as a golfer would. I can only see it through the eyes of one who loves grass that feels good between the toes, well groomed shrubs, sugar white sand, pine straw. There is a perfect combination of these things here in Georgia.
It has been my honor to travel to a few places where people took special pride in appearance, an almost fanatical attention to detail. So perfect you want to test them, to see if they are still paying attention right.... now. I wanted to drop trash on the ground, though I didn't, just to see how long it would take for someone to pick it up.
I do not recall every hearing about the Masters as a child. We were not a sports family and one would never hear anyone call out "the game is on!" at our house. That would come in later years when the boys grew up and inserted sports fan-ness into the vacuum. The Masters finally got my attention when I watched Jack Nicklaus win it in 1986. Why I happened to watch it that year I do not know, but my memory of the old lion charging across the course is etched in my head, somewhere.
The first time I heard about Augusta National was when a friend of a friend was invited to play there in the mid 1980's. He spoke as though I would know how special a course it is, and I acted through the conversation with the appropriate nods and chuckles.
On this day in 2014 just about everything was perfect. Members greeted you warmly as you entered the gates, green jackets with a fit that made their tailors proud. Coffee was hot, but not too so. My cigars seemed to know where they were and the Onyx Churchills burned smoothly and evenly throughout the day.
We spent time on hole 16, Redbud. Any boy, golfer or not, would love to watch the players try and skip balls across the water hazard like skipping stone on a pond. This part of the game I understood, the clowning around, putting on a show for the folks behind the ropes.
I followed Phil Mickelson and Jason Dufner for a while, chatting about who knows what, like they were just two guys getting away from the wives and kids for a few hours. They would both miss the cut and would soon be back home cleaning gutters and bathing the dog.
The Eisenhower Tree was gone this year, which made it even better for me, because I don't like pine trees. While it is etched in the Augusta memories of all golfers, there will soon come a day when it will only be known by the stories. No one playing the course will have actually seen it. I am ahead of them, for I have no memory of it at all. But then why should I, I am not a golfer.
The day ended almost as good as it started. There was a mind numbing wait for one of our group to check out every item in the gift shop, and a long walk back to our parking lot, but those are stories for another time. This day was about two brothers who made it to an important milestone in time. We welcomed a spring together that just months ago we were not sure we would see. Husbands and wives might have better days in their own ways, but not brothers.