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AUGUSTA, Ga. -- My trip to Augusta, Ga., was wet and rainy but it culminated with an exhilarating drive down Magnolia Lane. As I drove down the famed lane of majestic old Magnolia trees I caught a glimpse of the stately Berkman’s clubhouse. It greeted me with a warm and genteel Southern welcome and it felt like I had arrived home.
Founders Circle looked as pristine as ever. The hanging potted red flowers popped against the white walls and the black shutters of the clubhouse. It was the perfect blend of man-made and God-made. My smile widened and my heart skipped a beat as it always does. Augusta National truly is a gem – one which I count myself extremely fortunate and blessed to enjoy every year.
This Sunday was different from Sundays past. The Drive, Chip and Putt Championship brought a youthful energy to the grounds as the competitors and their parents enjoyed looking around the grounds after the contest.
It is a tradition that Masters champions can bring a guest to play the Sunday afternoon practice round. Bubba Watson enjoyed a round of golf with his wife, Angie. Ben Crenshaw brought his son, Gary Player played with a business contact and Larry Mize brought fellow Champions Tour member Michael Allen. They played a relaxing round between groups of members who were playing their final round before the event begins in earnest Monday.
I spent a fun day with my brother, Trevor (the 2008 Masters champion), and Tim Clark as they teed off the 10th hole and played the back nine. What struck me was how good the course looked given the recent spate of severe winter weather in the area. Amen Corner looked glorious. Not all of the blossoms were out yet but the par-5 13th was still a splash of color against the verdant fairways.
The entire nine holes was to be defined by my first view of the 17th hole sans the Eisenhower Tree. To say I was pleasantly surprised would be a mighty understatement. I had prepared myself for the worst given my love for the tradition at Augusta National and the Masters. When I stepped on the tee, however, the hole looked like it had been there for hundreds of years, shaped only by Alistair Mackenzie and the weather. The loblolly pines flanked what is a wide and lush uphill fairway, providing the perfect frame for a super par-4. I looked over at my brother and I mentioned that the hole was almost just as good without the tree. He just smiled and nodded as we walked off the tee and up the fairway. “I guess Ike got his wish,” I added.
We finished on the 18th and practiced putting for about an hour. As things grew quieter around the clubhouse, we packed up, headed via the Champions Locker Room to grab a Transfusion to go. (A Transfusion is a traditional drink at Augusta National made of Welch’s Grape Juice and ginger ale over ice, with a splash of lime.) It was the perfect end to a great Sunday.