AUGUSTA, Ga. — Morning came bright. Of course it did, for the Masters is about to begin, and it’s practically a law of nature that all should be good. Walk across the first fairway, the sun low and behind you, the sun is bright on the fairway grass, so bright the grass is more than green, it’s whatever color is a pay grade up from green.
We’re taking a long walk on a bright day. The Masters is about to begin and it’s time to leave behind snow and ice and all those basketballs. It’s time to walk among the azaleas and through the towering loblolly pines on grass that is GreenPlus. It dared rain here Monday and Tuesday. Driving from Arctic Illinois, I heard a Masters winner, Fred Couples, on the radio talking about the rain. Sorta. More about what the rain caused, which was …
“Well, uh …” Couples said, stumbling over what to call the result of rain pouring for two days onto dirt.
Poor, lovable Freddie.
Talking about Augusta National Golf Club, he didn’t want to use a three-letter word.
Rather than talk about a blemish on Augusta’s beauty, Freddie compromised and did a bit on the troubles caused by “mudballs,” those shots played when mud has clumped itself on the side of a ball.
This is not to single out Couples as a man so smitten he can only stutter. Man, woman, child and domesticated pet alike—we’re all in love with Augusta National.
First thing I did today was walk to the fourth green. I did that because the palm tree is visible. Once upon a time, while chasing misdirected shots, my buddy Tom Callahan and I noticed a palm tree hidden in a forest to the right of the fourth green. Research showed that it was the one and only palm tree on the property. We thought of it as Our Secret.
Now everybody will know. Augusta National has cut away everything around the palm tree. It did that while creating for the first time a gallery walkway from the fourth tee to the right of the green. Now we can see the 35-foot tree leaning toward the front greenside bunker, as if, at last, taking a bow. Its only neighbors are in a thicket of bamboo 20 feet high. Never saw the bamboo before, either.
A bonus: walk up the right side of the fourth, you can wind up behind the new fifth tee. The fifth, always a monster if largely ignored because it is on the backside of the course, has been stretched to 495 yards. Stand behind that tee, you can see the corner of the fairway turning left. It is not so much a dogleg left as a dogleg impossible. It’s still a par 4, and it still has those massive fairways bunkers secreted into a mountainside. But those bunkers are 40 yards nearer the tee without leaving a trace of their origins, a feat of golf architecture that is typical of Augusta’s methodology: build it today to look as if it’s been there forever.
“Those trees, they just planted them,” a security guard at the fifth tee said.
“And the azaleas,” he said.
“Which trees?” I asked.
“All of ‘em.”
Maybe 40 trees stood among flower beds covering hundreds of feet.
What God would do if He had Augusta money.
Rich with the place’s beauty, I was headed back to the Press Building when I saw reason to stop.
A woman and a blind man were walking across the vast swale between the eighth and ninth fairways.
Every few steps, Billy McBride touched the GreenPlus grass with his cane. Every few steps, he touched his mother’s left shoulder.
Forty years ago, living in Italy with her U.S. Air Force-stationed husband, Terry McBride contracted rubella, German measles, in the second trimester of pregnancy with Billy. The virus can cause severe developmental issues.
The luckiest of us see Augusta. Billy McBride felt it.
“Was the ground hard or soft walking here?’” Mrs. McBride asked her son.
“Oh, soft,” he said, a whisper.
The McBrides live in Augusta. Billy’s father, Bill McBride, is a tournament volunteer.
“If we’d lived in the U.S. instead of Italy,” McBride said, “this wouldn’t have happened. No German measles here. But we don’t mind. He’s a lovely kid.”
On the way in today, Terry McBride told her son about the flowers she saw, and the people, and the trees, and Tiger Woods on the putting green, and Phil Mickelson so near Billy could have touched him.
“I love you, Mom,” he said, a hand on her back.
She asked Billy to say why he wanted to be here today.
“It’s the Masters,” he said.