When I came out of a nine-month newspaper retirement to return to the Observer in September I told my employers I didn’t want to travel. I love traveling, but didn’t want to go on work trips.
If I remember correctly, my employers exchanged high fives and later threw a party. I’m terrible at expense accounts. I don’t cheat, except out of guilt when I pick up part of the tab because I’m so late.
Yet there are road assignments I miss. I miss the Panthers in New Orleans, I miss the Charlotte Hornets in playoff road games and I miss the Masters, which begins Thursday.
I don’t play golf. I got a 17 on the first hole of a rainy day round, and could never get my stroke back. I have a reasonable excuse but I’ve written about it before.
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I did have one final fantastic round and was under par after the front nine. A windmill blade then deflected my green ball, and I haven’t played since.
I had a chance to play Augusta National the day after the Masters. A friend had an opening in his group. But I thought about my game on that course. It would have been like running a pass pattern on Lambeau Field, shooting a jump shot at Oracle Arena or driving my car around Daytona International Speedway.
I turned down the offer and wrote about it. I thought readers would say: “Wow, you sure are selfless to give up a round at Augusta National.” Instead they said: “You’re even dumber than we thought.”
Fortunately, you don’t have to play golf at Augusta National, or play golf, to appreciate the Masters.
To get to Augusta National Golf Club, you pass one of the least appealing streets in the Southeast. Every chain restaurant has a franchise on Washington Road. I did an interview with John Daly in a Washington Road parking lot. He wasn’t talking to the press but I bought a $20 cap he had signed so he talked. My dog, a Boston terrier, ate most of it. I'm not saying the cap smelled like chicken wings from Hooters, once Daly's sponsor. But was the only cap the dog ever ate.
I like the intersections at which Washington Road and Augusta National meet. Washington Road is real life. Augusta National is a dream.
At my first tournament, I watched a very old man allow a piece of paper to slip through his fingers onto the ground. He paused for a moment and before the wind picked up the paper began to reach down to get it. Seconds were required for him to get all the way down there, perhaps as many as 10. But he made it. When he stood, he paused again. He put the piece of paper in his pocket and walked away.
Most of the fans who feel compelled to yell, “Get in the hole!” or even the outdated “You the man!” don’t come to the tournament. Or else they can’t get in.
The Masters is a testament to civility. Get caught with a cellphone on the course and officials will or at least can seize your tournament badge. The media is required to register their phones and can’t bring them on the course. It’s one of the great rules in all of sports.
The people who run the tournament could gouge fans if they choose. They could sell more badges and charge more for concessions. Last year an egg salad sandwich was still only $1.50, a turkey and cheese sandwich $1 more. A bottle of water was $2. Kids who set up tables on the sidewalk in front of their house charge $2. Beer was only $4.
I always went early Sunday morning to walk the course, a course much hillier than TV implies. There are no golfers then, and few people. To be encompassed by such beauty is a fantastic way to start a day.
Watching the final group on 18 is a fantastic way to end it.