April 5th, 2022, 9:30 PM, Tuesday night, nearly my bedtime, the telephone rang, I ignored it. No good news comes that late at night. My phone rang again, and I again ignored it. Then my wife’s phone rang, and we both ignored it. Judge Steve Harvey was about to present his ruling on a case involving a husband and wife suing each other over the wife’s cooking, for six thousand bucks! What could possibly be more interesting and important than that?
Then a text came in on my wife’s phone, “I know you’re both there watching Judge Steve Harvey, but it’s imperative that your husband call my husband immediately! Meanwhile, Judge Steve has come to a decision where he called the husband a “Howdy Doody, lookin’ dumbass who was lucky to have found such a great wife and told the wife she really ought’a cook the guy some spaghetti occasionally to save the marriage.
So, apart from the umpteenth variation of COVID, our wide-open southern border, war in Eastern Europe, world-wide inflation and the internationally failed logistics supply chain, things were pretty much in control for the night, so I decided to call my friend. After all, their fuzzy, rat-like dog, Elvis, might be having a Cujo moment and have them trapped in the bedroom. Sheesh! I’d told them to buy a gun for home protection.
My pal, Doug, was so excited he wouldn’t even talk on the phone, so his wife, Liz, translated. Their son-in-law, Nick who works for Coca Cola Bottling United in Birmingham, can provide tickets to his clients for The Masters. Absolutely horrible weather was all over the region and a VIP, for whom two tickets had been reserved, delayed their complimentary jet arrival in Augusta, until Thursday. That meant two tickets for Wednesday were available, but we had to be there at 0600 the next morning to use them. It’s a 4.5-hour drive from Amelia Island, Florida to Augusta.
After deep consideration over a period of about 4.5 seconds I came to my decision. I didn’t need Judge Harvey for this one. Doug and I were going. We decided to take my car instead of his golf buggy, in which, it would take about 4.5 days to make the trip. I told him I’d be at his place at 01:30, in 4 hours, to pick him up. My wife, also a golfer, packed a small, overnight bag for me while I tried to force-march a quick nap. Her faux tears were for the fact that there were only two tickets. Unfortunately, the VIP didn’t rate access to a jumbo jet making more tickets available.
As I turned the corner, down his dark street, Doug was standing in his driveway, with a small suitcase at his feet. Evidently, we both hoped the VIP would be delayed a few days and we could milk even more out of our adventure. He tossed in his gear, and we were off. At that time of night there’s virtually no traffic and WAZE, my constant driving companion, would help us keep an eye on the police situation. Once on I-95 we locked in the cruise control at 80 MPH and assigned duties. The driver would monitor the road and the other would monitor WAZE for hazards and police. We’d change jobs on demand.
Now Doug is an avid golfer. No, he’s more than that. He may even be an addicted golfer. In any event he’s very good, single-digit handicap, loves the game and is generous and thoughtful with his advice, when asked for it. He’s also very knowledgeable about the history of golf. We stayed awake throughout the night drive by talking golf. His excitement was palpable. He had been to Augusta on eight previous occasions and thought that heaven, if it was lucky, must be a little bit like The Augusta National Golf Course.
A quick fuel stop on Highway 16 in Georgia was our only stop and we rolled up to the Coca Cola hospitality house in Augusta at 05:30, an hour early. A phone call dragged Nick out of bed. His only comment was, “Good grief. You guys are really eager beavers!”
We had coffee, biscuits and bacon for breakfast, Augusta is in the South, you know. More talk about the wonderful world of golf and then a ride to the side gate for special VIP handling. To Doug, that side gate equates to the “Pearly Gates” of heaven. It was a privilege to enjoy his deep appreciation and knowledge of the game.
Once through the VIP gate we were stopped at another gate. The crowd grew around the gate as I became restive, “What in the world are we waiting for?”
A stranger replied in a friendly manner. “Hey dude, it’s not eight o’clock yet. The course isn’t open yet.” After being up all night, I thought it must be noon, at least.
Finally, the dam burst, and we calmly flowed through. A snappy-dressed black man was smiling and shaking hands with hordes of people.
“Hi Lynn, how you doin’?”
“Doing fine, thank you.”
“Hey Lynn, the Bills need a wide receiver.”
“Everybody needs a wide receiver!”
I asked our host, Nick, who is that guy?”
Nick looked at me like I might be from the moon and replied, “Pat, That’s Lynn Swann.”
“Who’s Lynn Swann?” OK, OK, so I’ve been living and working overseas for the past four decades. I’ve missed a lot of stuff.
Nick politely explained that Lynn Swann was a famous football player and a Hall of Famer. He’s also a member of the Augusta National Golf Club hosting The Masters and, along with other members, was volunteering as a “Greeter.”
We walked the entire course so that Doug could explain each hole and how it should be played. He didn’t need a “Score Saver”, he had it all in his head. We watched hundreds of people watch Tiger on his practice round. I had seen Tiger in both Dubai and Abu Dhabi and related how pleasant it had been to not have the crowds surrounding his game. We watched the players, their caddies and some of their children play the famous Par-3 where, to the great delight of the spectators and even themselves, they skipped golf balls across the water and onto the green. I would have been ecstatic over the ball placement of any of their skipping shots.
We must have walked the entire 18-hole circuit three times before noon. We then stopped for lunch and had a difficult time deciding which of the five restaurants to dine in at Berckmans Place. I finally realized the full significance of the VIP tickets. The access to Berckmans Place alone indicated how V-I our VIP really was.
During lunch the officials closed the course because of lightening. We decided to hide in Berckmans Place in hopes of it reopening. After an hour or so it did, and we began another round of walking. Doug and Nick assured me we were passing the merchandize area one last time and we should consider making some purchases. The line of shoppers was unlike anything I have ever experienced. It wound, round and round, up and down and around corners. The line exceeded any I’ve ever experienced, even at a Disney Park. However, the line moved quickly, and the shoppers were all happy in their favorite environment. They often greeted each other just based on the clothing they might be wearing. “Hey there Buffalo Bills guy. Where are you from?” And a new acquaintance and conversation began.
I, of course, made the amateur traveler’s mistake of buying more than I could comfortably carry but Doug, 15 years my junior, helped me lug the loot. At $30.00 for a green, folding camp chair I had to have two of them. Two bourbon glasses were necessary as well as an incorrect sized shirt for my wife, green visors, various ball markers and other bits and pieces to mark my visit wound up as a sizeable load. I had thought we were near those “Pearly Gates” but we had to walk half the golf course again to get to them. Finally, I was trudging up and down the hills with no burden while Doug carried it all. Now that’s a friend!
Both of us now tired, took a break and set up my new chairs on the 9th hole. Rory McIlroy was playing the 9th and we were sitting about 10 feet from the actual hole located right on the edge of the green.
I turned to Doug, “Isn’t this a little bit too close for comfort? For us and for Rory?”
“Nah,” he assured me. “Rory’s playing really well.”
Rory’s second shot landed 15 feet past the hole and zipped back to a foot from the hole for a beautiful birdy. What a shot for us to see at
end the day. The trudge to the gate was accompanied with an explanation from Doug on how to put back-spin on the ball to emulate Rory’s shot. Hell! I struggle to get the damned ball to the hole, much less past it and back again.
Towering thunderstorms and heavy rain pounded us halfway back to Amelia Island but the two of us continued to chatter, excitedly remembering things we had seen and done during the day. We continued our rotation of driving and monitoring WAZE and I began to wind down from the golfing high. After dropping off my pal and making it back to my house I rolled into the garage at 9:30 PM Wednesday night, exhausted after 21 hours of “golf”. My only slight disappointment was that the only camera I have is in my iPhone, and, of course, I couldn’t take it on the course.
I have no idea who the Coca Cola VIP was whose absence made the tickets available, but I’d like to thank them. The tickets did not go unused, they were enjoyed to the maximum. Doug and I are eternally grateful to the VIP, Nick and Coca Cola.
Now the important work of The Masters begins. Will Scottie Scheffler continue his recent string of wins and don the green jacket? Will Rory McIlroy finally win a Masters and complete his pursuit of the Grand Slam of golf? Will Tiger Woods make an incredible return to golf after his horrific accident and walk away with the green jacket? Will he even make the cut? At the time of this writing, the end of day one, Tiger is one under par and still in’it to win’it.