By Michael Rand
OK, so that doesn’t have the same ring as “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night,” but let’s face it: Aside from the occasionally funny digital short or the times they let Super Bowl QBs host that show, SNL’s not very entertaining. Jerry Zgoda? Very entertaining. He’s the Star Tribune’s golf writer, and we’re going to be hosting his daily web-tronic dispatches from the Masters over here on RandBall. Follow him from tee to green, around Amen Corner and into the clubhouse, but stop just before he gets to the men’s room and give a fella a little privacy. OK, enough of our blather. We’re getting close to Lyle’s time and leaving you with Jerry’s first report:
The first ball struck early Thursday morning every year at the Masters tells golfers everywhere that spring is imminent. If you travel the South’s back roads 90 miles to Augusta — past blooming dogwoods and lilacs, country churches and aromatic barbecue joints — and approach Magnolia Lane, you know it’s here. To get to perhaps the most pristine and revered patch of real estate in all of golf you first must endure the underbelly of America, encapsulated in a one-mile stretch of Washington Road that fronts the Augusta National Golf Club property. Before you enter the foliage-hidden fenced walls (topped by barbed wire), you pass every fast-food, cheap-motel and convenience-store chain known to mankind.
Through those walls awaits another world. Passing through the paved main entrance lined by neat, wooden green (what other color would you expect?) buildings is like walking down main street at Disneyland, and like passing into another time.
Beyond the permanent concession stands (where a sandwich still costs you only $1.50) and the souvenir building (where people were lined outside by the hundreds waiting to enter late Monday afternoon), green turf, towering pines and splashes of brilliant white sand tumble out before you, enough to make any golfer’s heart go pitter-pat. It’s tempted to stop beating all together the first time you walk down the 10th and 11th hole and glimpse “Amen Corner,” the stretch of holes from Nos. 11 to 13 that includes the little par-3 12th played over Rae’s Creek.
On Monday, the temperatures reached the low 80s, a humid breeze swayed the pines and golf fans by the tens of thousands — a traffic jam compared to the modest crowds allowed entry on tournament days starting Thursday — arrived to follow Phil and Tiger around the grounds or stand and watch past champions Craig Stadler and Larry Mize work on the putting green late into the afternoon. Spotted among the crowds was a Minnesotan, Chris Foley, the director of golf for Madden’s resort near Brainerd. He comes every year for practice rounds and, this year, Thursday’s opening day of competition. Already getting a bit of sunburn, he said, “There’s no place else like it on Earth.”