Mickelson congratulates Schwartzel at 2011 Masters.
Having watched the Masters on television for over 20 years, a couple of years ago I was presented with the opportunity to attend golf's finest event in person.
I attended round two of the 2011 Masters, which was the same year Charl Schwartzel took home the green jacket. Being my first time to attend, I followed Phil Mickelson for an entire round in order to not miss a single corner of the course.
It was an experience of a lifetime, and one that every sports fan must put on his or her bucket list.
For those of you that have yet to attend the Masters, let me share my Masters memoir.
Eisenhower Cabin at Augusta National
The night before heading to Augusta National, I kept thinking, “Am I really going to get to walk the heavenly and historic grounds of Augusta National tomorrow?
Fortunately, the answer was yes. I was heading there with my father-in-law.
CBS' Jim Nantz always sells the Masters as “a tradition unlike any other,” and even a trip to the “facilities” was unlike anything I'd ever experienced at a sporting event. At the door to each restroom unit stood men and women in green jackets respectively calling up the next patrons in line. However, the greeters in green not only called you up, but also opened the doors and formally greeted you upon entering. Southern hospitality is one thing, but being greeted upon entering the restroom? It was impressive.
Having made our stop at the men's room, it was finally time to make way past the driving range and towards the famed course. Upon walking onto the grounds, I literally felt as if I had walked back in time and into a 1940’s movie set. The scene was surreal. There sat the white Augusta National clubhouse, adorned by an enormous oak tree that had laid witness to decades of golfing history. It was stunning.
Sitting on the grounds of the majestic clubhouse were white tables with vintage green and white umbrellas, furthering the feel of walking back in time. Across from the clubhouse sat the affectionately-named Eisenhower Cabin, having hosted the former President and First Lady during their frequent visits to the property.
Directly in front of the clubhouse stood the historic first tee, where CBS has aired “ceremonial first shots” throughout the years from the likes of Nelson, Nicklaus, Palmer, Sarazen, and Snead. While the hairs on my arms stood thinking about the immense level of history and heritage, I became surprised at the level of simplicity as I continued on the course.
As I stood between the clubhouse and number one tee, the starter introduced the next on tee, “Phil Mickelson,” to great applause. Phil made the typical nod of the head and grin before sending his ball on a trip down the magnificent fairway of the first hole (Tea Olive).
As his caddy, affectionately known as Bones, and he began their walk the fairway, so did we. It was time to truly experience Augusta National, taking in each hole in its unique glory.
Upon arriving at the first green, my father-in-law and I gave each other a similar stare from about 30 yards away. We had discovered Phil’s beautiful wife and cancer-survivor, Amy, following Phil on the course.
It was almost as if Phil had selected the radiant blue sundress and white Louis-Vuitton purse himself, in order to keep track of his wife throughout the day. Regardless, it was father-in-law, son-in-law bonding at it’s finest. There was beauty everywhere.
The fairways and greens have always looked immaculate over the years from home, but the actual fairways and greens were of an unreal color and texture. They were heavenly. Beautiful, mature pine trees stood on nearly every hole hovering over the fairways and greens in a manner that looked as if they were actually protecting and guarding each hole.
Large, unforgiving sand traps sat perfectly manicured, as they looked for their next victims. The greens themselves, simply levels of perfection one could never imagine to exist. It was like a dream.
Noting the difficulty and significance of holes 11, 12 and 13 in determining who may eventually don on the winner's green jacket in a given year, legendary sportswriter Herbert Warren Wind first coined the term "Amen Corner" in a 1959 article in Sports Illustrated (usatoday.com).
After making my way to the No. 11 green and unimaginably close tee box of the signature par 3 No. 12 (Golden Bell), I knew this was going to be one of my defining "Masters moments." The immaculate greens of 11 and 12 were incredibly close to one another. The greens were so close that golfers would often wait for one another to putt on opposing greens to not fall victim to a famed "Augusta roar" known to reverberate across the entire course. There's simply no other sound like it in sports.
After watching Phil drain a putt on No. 12 and taking a moment to appreciate the beautiful azaleas to the back of the hole, I headed towards a nearby refreshment area to see what Augusta National had to offer patrons. I immediately took notice of the low prices on items such as pimento cheese sandwiches ($1.50), chocolate chip cookies ($1.00), sodas ($1.50) and even beer ($3.00). The prices were unimaginable for such a world-class sporting event, but nonetheless very pleasing to the wallet.
I opened my pimento cheese, sipped my beer and continued along to the par 5 No. 13 hole (Azalea).
Once again, it was more than anything I could have ever conjured up in my mind.
Hole-by-hole, the scenes continued to be breathtaking.
Eventually, we approached hole No. 16 (Redbud) made famous most-recently by Tiger's chip-in from the back of the green a few years ago. It was just as I had imagined, but the entire setting on the amphitheater-style hole was closer and much more intimate than I had even envisioned.
While watching golfers on the hole, I heard a man whisper, "If someone tells me to move here, I'm not going to argue. I'm at the Masters." That was the special thing about the Masters, fans attending this world-renowned event had a reverence and respect for the course that stood out among major sports venues in the world.
Watching golf at No. 16 was no different than watching a play on Broadway. The atmosphere was second to none, and there was all the drama one could ever want. It was a hole you could sit on all day, and never get tired of watching the drama unfold.
Finally making our way up the fairway of the hole No. 18 (Holly), I found myself eavesdropping on a Mickelson story being told in the gallery.
An apparent insider began to tell another patron how there was a child being flown in from from a hospital, just to have a Saturday lunch with defending champion Phil Mickelson. Now I've always thought a lot of Phil, his perseverance to finally win a major championship after years of disappointment, his adoration for his wife and kids and his willingness to serve as a role model, but taking the time to have lunch with a child in the middle of a major? It spoke volumes to his character as a man.
Finally, Phil completed his round with a putt on No. 18 to finish the day at even par.
Tired from walking the hillier-than-expected course, we decided to take a seat around the green at No. 9 (Carolina Cherry) to watch a few groups finish the front nine. Beyond seeing the likes of Ernie Els, Lee Westwood and others, the highlight of our time at No. 9 was getting to see Tiger stick a shot close and roll a putt in for birdie.
I proudly thought to myself as he walked off the green, “there aren’t just a whole lot of other people in the world that can say they witnessed Tiger birdie a hole at the Masters.” It's a moment I'd never forget.
Finally, the memorable day began to draw to a close.
I took a final look at the scene surrounding the historic clubhouse, first tee, and No. 9 and No. 18 greens, making sure to take a mental snapshot to last a lifetime. I had met a woman that had stolen my heart and her name was Augusta.
In the matter of eight or nine hours, I had developed a love affair with one of the most beautiful places on earth, Augusta National during The Masters. While it took me 30 years of life to finally attend the major at Augusta National, I promised myself that I'd make it an annual rite of passage each spring to visit.
If you ever want to experience heaven on earth, you absolutely must make at least one trip to the Masters in your lifetime. You won't regret it, and it's safe to assume you'll probably fall in love with the course.
As CBS' Jim Nantz proclaims during Masters week, "it's truly a tradition unlike any other!"