I started to shake with anticipation as I hung up the phone. Could it really be true that I would be playing a round of golf at the hallowed ground of Augusta National?
The generous offer had been extended by my friend, Frank Christian, a world renowned golf course photographer, and the official photographer of August National for the last thirty years. Each year Augusta allows selected employees to invite two guests to play the course. Our date was to be just two weeks after the Masters.
I brought along my friend Tim Townley. Tim and I have been friends forever, but I have since found myself constantly reminding him that he will be indebted to me for just as long a period of time. Needless to say, the weeks leading up to our date seemed like an eternity. We talked every five minutes to share some nuance of Augusta history.
Frank Christian has a way to make people feel special and make his friend's trip to Augusta a once in a lifetime experience. So it was when we arrived in Augusta.
Frank has a long-standing tradition that he invites you to partake the night before you play. You see, when the great Bobby Jones died, Frank was in charge of cleaning out Bobby's locker. In it he found a bottle of 1908 Old Rye Whiskey some three-quarters full. With permission, Frank cradled home his prize. Frank's pre-round ceremony consists of each member of the foursome taking a sip of whiskey from Bobby Jones' bottle. To this day, I get the chills thinking back on it.
I awoke before dawn the next morning in anticipation of the day that lay ahead. Finally the hour of our departure arrived and we headed out to the course.
On approach, I had my first glimpse of the famed gate and the magnolia lined drive. Just outside the gate stood a man and his young son craning their necks to get a peek inside. The young boy was attired in knickers and a tam o'shanter, just like Payne Stewart. Clearly golf was a passion the father had passed on to his son and now was being jointly shared. If I had the ability to let them inside the gates I would have, but alas, as we passed, I wished them luck in their efforts.
Everything was perfect, just the way I had always imagined it would be. Every blade of grass was perfectly cut, the gardens were brilliant and every shrub was precisely manicured. The golf course was very different than it appears on television. Namely, the course is distinguished by deep and numerous undulations and hills. Although, the difficulties of the greens are well documented, I believe they are even tougher in person.
I have played St. Andrews, Royal Troon, Murfield, Pebble Beach and many others but Augusta National was without a doubt the best overall golfing experience I have ever enjoyed.
I have my own tradition whenever I play one of these great courses. I collect a small vial of sand from one of the bunkers and display it alongside its distinguished brethren. I pinched some sand from the famous bunker alongside the 18th of Augusta as my keepsake.
Arriving at the airport for my return home I spotted the father and son I had seen at the gate to Augusta. I asked the little boy, his name was Max, if he had a good time in Augusta and he gave me a reluctant "yes". His dad mentioned to me that Max was really disappointed because he could not get in the gates of Augusta National to get a souvenir. Well, here I was just fresh from a round at Augusta wearing my new Augusta shirt and my new Augusta hat, and this little boy had nothing.
At that point I took off my hat and put it on his little head. I then reached into my bag and grabbed my vile of sand from the 18th hole and explained to Max what it was and how I got it. I told Max that this would be a great start for a new collection for him.
The look on his face was absolutely priceless.
As great as my golfing experience was at August National, my most memorable moment was the look on Max's face.