BELIEVE it or not, the Masters starts in a couple of weeks.
For golfers in the North, it is a sign that this winter of 2014 finally could be melting away.
Even Augusta felt the wrath with an ice storm that took down the famous Eisenhower tree on the 17th hole.
The Masters signifies the official start of a new golf season for many parts of the United States.
This will be my fifth year as a rules official, and each year I look forward to the week with great anticipation. It has been my good fortune to play Augusta (Ga.) National Golf Club five times, including a couple of rounds on its fabled par-3 course.
I once did the math, and after my eight years are finished as a PGA official I will have spent over 90 days of my life at Augusta National. “He spent three months of his life at the most hallowed grounds in all of golf.” Not a bad epitaph for my tombstone.
Clearly, I remember my first trip down Magnolia Lane. The most famous road in golf is lined with green curbing, and at the end of the lane is the famous yellow floral arrangement in the shape of The Masters logo.
The speed limit is 10 mph, and as I gawked out the window of an official Augusta courtesy van I noticed my clubs already waiting for me on the member’s range. They had been shipped to the course a couple days ahead of time. My blue and gold stand bag looked as appetizing as an eager prom date waiting at the front door.
The white clubhouse at Augusta is stately, distinctive and a bit understated. Its wooden floors, which are now covered with green carpeting, creak under foot. Upstairs is the Champions locker room, which looks down Magnolia Lane.
This is a small and exclusive room with wooden lockers bearing the nameplates of those who have donned the green jacket. There are more champions than there are lockers, so many lockers have more than one name on it. The green jacket from the defending champion is on display throughout the year.
Also, upstairs is the Crow’s Nest, which annually houses many of the amateur contestants who have been invited to the Masters field. “The Nest” is very small, and the sleeping quarters are divided by partitions that house twin beds. There is a small common area with a few soft chairs and a TV. The accommodations are circa 1950s, but it’s a distinguished few that have slept here.
Downstairs in the main clubhouse area are many artifacts from President Dwight Eisenhower. Most notably is one of his desks, a chair and a rotary phone that Ike used while spending time as a member at The National.
He was the last and only U.S. president to be accepted as an Augusta member because the interruption and inconvenience to members in having to deal with the security issues for a president are simply not worth it. In fact, a very reliable source tells me that no president — current or former — is allowed on the grounds while the course is open.
Eisenhower was a fairly accomplished painter, and in the Augusta National dining room is an oil painting that Ike did of Clifford Roberts, the co-founder of the club. This room is not large by many country club standards and probably seats around 75 people.
Its signature dinner dish would be southern fried chicken served with mashed potatoes, gravy, collard greens and cornbread. The waiter will present a tray of large green olives as an appetizer. There is no menu at breakfast. Order whatever you want, and the cook will fix it.
In the basement of the clubhouse is one of the most distinctive wine cellars in America. Over 5,000 bottles of wine reside there, with the most expensive bottle selling for several thousand dollars. Two wooden shelves contain the inscriptions “DDE” (Dwight David Eisenhower) and “Private CR” (Cliff Roberts). These shelves are just another example of preserving the past at The National.
Located on the back lawn of the clubhouse are the famous green and white umbrella tables. They overlook the entire golf course and rest on the highest part of the property. During the Masters it’s a virtual who’s who of the golfing world at those tables. Onlookers will collect outside the ropes in hopes of catching a glimpse of Arnold Palmer or Jack Nicklaus. All former champions wear their green jackets when on property during the tournament.
My exposure to the club has come through the generous invitations of Gene Howerdd, a 53-year Augusta National member. Howerdd’s father also was a member, and Gene will boast that he is the only living person who has attended every Masters since its inception in 1934. “I was in my mother’s womb for the first Masters,” Howerdd recalled. “She was on property during that first tournament, and so was I.”
One of the current Augusta National policies is that memberships are not passed down from one family generation to another. I never asked what the dues or initiation fees are, and I never will. I am guessing the member’s annual dues include an allotment of guest rounds and when those are used, members are done with their guests for the year.
Augusta closes in early May. The day after it is officially closed selected tournament volunteers are given the opportunity to play the course. In late October or early November, Augusta reopens.
The golf shop is in a separate building located a few feet west of the main clubhouse. For several generations the club has had co-head golf professionals. It’s a system that Roberts put in place when Ed Dudley, longtime golf professional, retired.
Ironically, Dudley also served six consecutive one-year terms as president of the PGA of America. The golf shop is extremely small and is closed to the public during the Masters.
The club’s logo is a gold map of the U.S., with the familiar red flag and hole located where Augusta, Ga., lies on the map. Exclusive club merchandise can only be purchased in the golf shop. Masters merchandise is sold from a permanent building located separate from the clubhouse. The tournament merchandise contains the club logo with “The Masters” on it.
I have said many times that there is never a bad day at Augusta National Golf Club. It’s a place that you never take for granted.
When I leave each year, I can’t wait until I can come back. Even nongolfers yearn to step onto these hallowed grounds.
Ted Bishop is the 38th president of the PGA Tour and general manager and director of golf at The Legends Golf Club in Franklin. Send comments to email@example.com