The wind rushes through the Georgia Pines and another spring day comes to a close over the place known around the world as simply Augusta.
The Augusta National Golf Club, is a place where you can hear history when the wind blows. A gust of cool air moves up the 10th fairway toward the famed Butler Cabin and when it reaches the 100 year old pines behind you, just for an instant it is the sound of a rising crescendo, the crowd going to their feet as Jack Nicklaus sinks an eagle put at 15. You will swear that is what you heard, just as if you were standing on this very spot twenty five years ago on that Sunday when Nicklaus won his sixth green jacket.
But the wind blowing through the Georgia pines also reminds you that time is indeed fleeting and that even this very moment is now history. Augusta is a place where tradition stands firm against a cascade of modernism, against technology and solid in the grips of honor and rules of golf that prevail on these grounds. This is where the soul of golf resides during the coldest days of winter, and where we take notice and rejoice at spring’s arrival each April.
This is a place where change is avoided and old traditions thrive like bent grass greens in the cool spring weather.
But change comes anyway, even to Augusta National. The course is longer than it was even a few years ago, playing now to 7,435 yards, and is the perfect setup for a Tiger Woods of two or three green jackets ago. Once a Master of this golf course Woods has become just another name on the pairing sheets.
Yet, Thursday will mark Tiger’s 17th appearance at the masters, and his pairing with Graeme McDowell, the U.S. Open champion who rallied from a four-shot deficit to beat Woods last December in a playoff for a the Chevron World Challenge, will please those who still hope for greatness from the once number one golfer in the world.
But the title of number one now belongs to a German Martin Kaymer, who was little known before winning the PGA Championship last year.
And there are other names also on hand on this late afternoon.
Matt Kutcher is here as is Sandy Lyle and around the corner Ben Crenshaw who is making his 39 appearance and is chatting it up with Ricky Fowler who is making is first. Fowler is so young looking that Fred Couples and Tiger seem to be in the same demographic and then there is “lefty” Phil Mickelson.
Mickelson is so tickled to be at Augusta that he decided not to practice today and just take it all in. Noting the overnight storm damage and the loss of a magnolia he joked "I was surprised that it wasn't replaced the first half hour, I don't understand what happened. I think Chairman [Billy] Payne must have been sleeping in.”
One Less Magnoila
But Augusta isn't about sleeping in, its about being timeless and the Eisenhower Pine stands a testament to that fact. The member and former president once complained about the tree and wanted it removed, in making his complaint known to Chairman Clifford Roberts Ike sealed the tree’s fate, forever to stand on the 17th fairway, a fitting tribute to a nation’s leader and best known executive branch golfer. The tree is also a reminder that even presidents can’t get a break at Augusta.
Tomorrow the par 3 contest will complete the warm up with an always fun event, the object of which is not to win, as doing is considered the death blow to winning the actual tournament.
On Thursday morning Nicklaus and Palmer will step to the first tee as honorary starters, and the applause that follows each shot will mark the start of the 75th Masters. Snead, Nelson and Sarazen the prior starts are now gone. But I’m sure the trio having served the longest in that role as honorary starters would be pleased to Jack and Arnie filling in for them.
Friday the corporate crowds with fill the galleries and by Saturday it will turn to family day with pimento cheese sandwiches carefully wrapped in green plastic being consumed by the truck load while inside the ropes its moving day.
And it all becomes history in the fading half light of another April Sunday afternoon, when someone walks up the 18th fairway hearing not just the roar of the appreciative crowd, but a standing ovation from history itself as it takes a firm hold of that final moment at the Masters.