Few places on earth have the feel of Augusta National. It is a place were history is made and tradition endures, a place were time stands still yet moves forever forward.
At Augusta National the color green is everywhere, but the black and white photos of Master's past champions offer the real color of Augusta. While the notable names like Hogan, Palmer, Jones are in prominent places, forgotten names also abound. Names like Bob Goalby, George Archer, Gay Brewer and Art Wall, Jr. are just a few.
Walking past the photos it seems it was only yesterday that Sarazen, Snead, and Nelson would drive the first tee at Augusta to start each year's Masters. Sarazen passed away at the age of 97 in 1999, Snead in 2002 and Nelson died in 2006. This year's honorary starters Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicholas will continue the tradition.
Golf's legends at Augusta are not limited to Palmer and Jack Nicholas, along the fairways there are still echos of voices and images of long past champions among the Georgia Pines.
If you doubt they are still here, walk the back nine just after dawn on a cool April morning when the fog is lifting from Rae's Creek. On those April mornings you'll likely find Gene Sarazen and Sam Snead standing on the 13th tee and Hogan putting out on the 15th. Byron Nelson walking past the Eisenhower Pine and Bobby Jones sitting on the veranda.
Even in the Champions Locker Room, past and present coexist. Jack Burke, Jr. is a name few remember as the 1956 winner of the Masters. Burke shares his permanent locker at the Augusta National Golf Club with Tiger Woods. As tradition dictates, both keep their prized green jackets, in a wooden, finished locker with gold name plates on the front, with each year listed for the year they won.
Jack Burke and Ben Hogan Augusta National Club House
But sharing a locker is about all Jack Burke and Tiger Woods have in common. Burke started playing golf at the age of 4 and was breaking par by 12. He served in the Marine Corps during World War II and today Burke is as friendly and open as ever and always happy to speak with those who say hello when he is holding court at the Champions Club in Houston, Texas.
Jack doesn't worry about his privacy and has always held his ego in check. He was once quoted by the Houston Chronicle: "I don't think what I did as a player is that important. I didn't think playing was a great achievement, because I always felt like I could play. I was playing a game."
Jack Burke has always been someone who fellow golfers would seek out, over the years he has instructed Phil Mickelson, Hal Sutton and even Tiger's confidant Steve Elkington to name only a few. In 2004, Burke served as Sutton's assistant captain at the Ryder Cup. Today Jack Burke at 87 still offers advice and lessons at the Champions Club in Houston, Texas.
Will the years be as kind to Tiger Woods? Only time will tell, but long after Tiger Woods retires from the game the Georgia Pines will still stand tall along the emerald green fairways of Augusta National. The voices that remain will be those of golf, makers of amazing shots and come from behind victories and not those of media pundits commenting on a professional golfer's off the course transgressions.
And it is in this quiet reassurance that Augusta and the Masters will remain a place where the game of golf is played on fast greens and from perfectly raked bunkers. A place where each year during the first full week of April that the sounds of gallery voices rising in a crescendo from Amen Corner tell you it is indeed The Masters.
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