By D.C. Fasciglione
Spring. The reawakening of yet another year, a celebration of life and living. There are few places in my mind that symbolize this renewal more so than at the Augusta National Golf Club, Augusta, Ga., the site of the year’s first major, The Masters.
For people who are less familiar with golf and its history one tournament may not seem so different from any other. Week to week they may see sprawling green fairways, beach white bunkers, and smartly dressed athletes plying their skills in a contest of strategy, endurance and talent.
Those who are a bit more knowledgeable about the game of golf know each tournament takes on a character of its own. The vista changes, the turf, the sand, the people. The courses themselves have a personality. And then there are the majors.
Of the four majors, the Masters, the British Open, the U.S. Open, and the PGA Championship, only Augusta National, the course of the Masters, is the perennial. The effect of this is significant. Golf fans the world over have come to know the course itself, not just the tournament. The sweeping carpet-like fairways bordered by reddish pine straw. The cavernous white sand bunkers, sharply edged and contrasting with meticulously trimmed grass.
The garden-like setting popping with azaleas and dogwoods.
Augusta’s history begins in 1930, linked to one of golf’s legendary figures, Bobby Jones. The origins of the course are well documented. When Jones retired from competition he joined with Clifford Roberts, an investment banker on Wall Street who helped Jones find a suitable property for his vision. Alister MacKenzie worked with Jones as the principle architect for the course.
Over the years the course has come to represent tradition itself; a hallmark of spring, of southern sensibilities and tradition, and of permanence. Iconic monikers such as “Amen Corner,” the “Eisenhower Tree,” and “Magnolia Lane” serve to perpetuate the sense of mystique and history about the place. Perhaps the most sentimental tradition is that of the Honorary Starters; this year Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, and Gary Player.
Legendary golfers are forever linked with the course; Gene Sarazen’s “Shot heard ’round the world,” the Hogan and Nelson bridges over Rae’s Creek. In more recent times we have witnessed the great Jack Nicklaus reclaim his youth and victory in a thunderous Sunday charge, while we have also been stunned and amazed at the collapse of Greg Norman’s seven-stroke lead on his way to loss, never to achieve the coveted Masters trophy.
And we have also seen the ascension of arguably the world’s greatest golfer ever, Tiger Woods, victorious at Augusta four times, only second to Nicklaus’s amazing six victories.
The year Tiger Woods was born, 1975, Jack Nicklaus won his fifth green jacket. Most remember back to the 16th green, and the “thunderbolt” 45-foot putt up the slope and into the heart of the cup. The Golden Bear was 35 years old and en route to setting a record that stands to this day. Johnny Miller famously stated that Jack “had left bear tracks on the 16th green.”
In 2005, the year Jack Nicklaus played in his final Masters tournament, Tiger Woods won his fourth trophy at Augusta. He was 30 years old. Once again the 16th hole, known as “Redbud,” was the scene of history in the making. Few have problems recalling the chip shot from off the green which hung on the lip, a virtual pose for the cameras, a frozen memory in Augusta’s storied history, before dropping to the bottom of the cup. Tiger would go on to defeat Chris DiMarco on the first sudden death playoff hole to capture victory.
It has been seven years since that victory. Some of that time has been spent recovering from devastating setbacks, both physical and psychological, many brought on by Tiger himself. Yet, perhaps time heals.
There is no way to divine what the future will bring. One thing we can rely upon, however, is that which returns year after year, the passage of Time, and the recognition that our place in time is marked by very special people and events. Yes, it is spring again. Let the Masters begin.