Yes, my friends, it is that time of year; the time when leaves ripen, when sunshine emerges and engulfs us all, and when nature's beauty and bounty is displayed as God's annual spectacle to mankind.
It is spring and nothing denotes this time of year quite like the Masters, held at Augusta National annually since 1934 (excluding 1943-1945 due to World War II). Gary Player, the first international player to win the Masters, once said, "If there is a golf course in heaven, I hope it is like Augusta National."
I am sure a myriad of his fellow golfers (both deceased, retired, and present) and golf supporters would agree.
There is nothing as serene or celestial as the visual palette offered by Augusta National: the variety of flowers and fauna nestled amongst those Georgia pines, the landscape and panoramic backdrops of the holes themselves, and of course the green jacket that adorns the victor of that first, full week of April.
What makes the Masters so vibrant and transparent is that it transcends golf itself, at least in the eyes of this beholder.
One of the Masters' most special moments is the tee-off of the honorary starter, typically a past and decorated major champion golfer like Gene Sarazen or the immortal Byron Nelson or the All-American, Sam Snead, to currently, the King, Arnold Palmer.
It is no wonder that past winners of this tournament have always returned to commemorate the beginning of spring at Augusta: it is a place and a course where the players are just honored to be walking and in attendance, much like the patrons are.
History has been immortalized on the grounds of Augusta National like that day in 1935 when Gene Sarazen recorded golf's most fabled and legendary shot: a double eagle on the 15th hole to earn a playoff the next day with clubhouse leader, Craig Wood, that he would win.
Remember that Sunday afternoon in 1960, when Arnold Palmer and "Arnie's Army", his loyal throng of supporters, watched him make his famous Sunday charge and birdie the last two holes to beat rookie Ken Venturi by one stroke!
Similarly in 1986, the eyes of America watched an aged, 46-year-old Jack Nicklaus rewind time and make an inspired Sunday move on Augusta's back nine, shooting it in six-under par, to capture the tournament for a record sixth time as well as our hearts in the process.
But perhaps for this generation, we will never forget that epic Sunday in 1997 when one, Tiger Woods, made us all wonder what was truly possible.
African-American caddies, cooks, and other employees of the "socially rigid" Augusta National watched like those millions on television and in attendance as Tiger Woods razed his field of competitors and the golf course itself as he won by an emphatic 12 strokes and scored a still record 18 strokes under par!
Augusta National has a peace and tranquility to it that renders it to the inner machinations of our minds as something attune to what God's playground would look like. The bright, bold sun cuts perfectly through the depths of the Georgian pines and contours the property in an illuminating and enchanting portrait of colors and shadow.
The greens look so unassuming and placid from a distance and when not surrounded by galleries, but are treacherous and renown for their difficulty, slope, and speed.
Navigating from hole to hole, you can see the myriad of floral fauna that encompasses the course as there are azaleas, dogwoods, pine trees, and about 350 other varieties of such botanic splendor to relish.
The most famous portion of Augusta National is Amen Corner (the stretch of holes from 11 through 13), where God, fate, and golf always become intertwined on Sunday at the Masters because of the hazard of Rae's Creek: water.
In the humbled opinion of this writer, there are only three major sporting events that have earned and deserved their privileged status as traditions among the American lexicon: The Masters, The Kentucky Derby, and the Indianapolis 500.
Each of these events is steeped in iconic lore and revelry, but only the Masters remains as highly regarded as it once was considered. Sports connect human beings in ways that others could only fathom, but in the case of the Masters, it is more than just another golf tournament.
It is a rite of passage that 44 privileged men have experienced, some of them have been fortunate and truly blessed to repeat the feat on multiple occasions! Sports celebrations are famous and defined because they endear us to our fellow men and women who have achieved great accomplishments under tremendous duress.
But when a golfer realizes that he has just won the Masters, he is immediately cognisant of the enormity of the Masters experience and there is nothing but smiles and tears when he is presented with the fabled Green Jacket in Butler Cabin, that denotes him as a Masters champion and honorary member of the Augusta National Golf Club for the remainder of his lifetime.
When the dusk falls on Masters Sunday, the red hues of the sunset linger and paint Augusta National in stillness and darkening shadow. It is similar to the red velvet curtains on a stage that must close after a play's finale. We do not want to leave, but rather remain in the moment, so to speak, forever or as long as our hearts desire.
However, it would not be fitting because those fleeting moments and remembrances make us return every year around this time. When CBS broadcaster, Jim Nantz, offers us those humble words, "Hello friends and welcome to Augusta National," we feel like we are entering heaven at its magnificent doorstep.
Well my friends, spring is no longer dormant nor is Tiger Woods, the player to watch this weekend from Augusta and my pick to secure his fifth green jacket. Enjoy the Masters, truly a tradition unlike any other!
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