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Spring Arrives with the Masters

If you depend upon calendars to tell you when the first day of spring has arrived, then you know that it was March 20 this year.  I’ve never measured the arrival of spring by the calendar.  Spring, for me, arrives the week of the Masters Tournament held since 1934 in Atlanta, Georgia. 


I usually try to find my way to a golf course that week to celebrate the arrival of the most anticipated of the seasons, spring.


Unlike the other majors, the PGA, the USGA, the British Open, it never changes.  It’s always played on the the same course in the same place, Augusta National Golf Course.  Even the name, Georgia, sounds inviting when spoken with the truest of Southern accents.  It’s as dependable as the change of seasons, and, for me, it marks the beginning of  a new season.


I was a small lad when I first heard of the Masters.  I listened to the broadcasts of the tournament on the radio.  Later I watched the annual event on black and white, then color, then digital televisions.  I also watch the other majors; however, they do not touch my mind and my heart as the Masters does.


The beauty of the course, with its tall pines and azaleas in full bloom, makes my bones ache for the beauty of the South.  Texas is a fine state, but it lacks the steamy heat and dark allure of the old South.


It’s not just the beauty of the course which intrigues me.  It’s the treachery of the course.  It’s as though it was created by a voodoo woman and maintained by a wizard.  Beauty and danger rolled into one plot of ground.  It destroys the dreams of the foolish dreamers but rewards the dreamers who screw their courage to the sticking place for four days in April.


The winners are always the same at the end: their joy overwhelming yet tempered by the realization of the magnitude of what they have accomplished which is usually a dream which began in their youthful days.


Many who play at the Masters leave so much of themselves on the course, that their games are a little off for weeks.  Usually even the winners aren’t the same for some time.


Where the course is now was once a plant nursery and all eighteen holes have names of trees or scrubs: Tea Olive, Pink Dogwood, White Dogwood, Flowering Peach, Golden Bell, Flowering Crab Apple, Magnolia, Chinese Fir, Juniper Camellia, Firethorn, Azalea, Pamaps, Redbud, Yellow Jasmine, Nandina, Carolina Cherry, and Holly.  The most recognized flowers at Augusta are the azaleas.  No. 13 alone has over 1,600 azaleas in full bloom at the Masters.  The course whispers springtime in April each year.


The Masters was started by Clifford Roberts and Bobby Jones.  Bobby, along with course architect Alister MacKenzie, designed the course.  In recent years the course has been lengthened to take into account the great distances that contemporary players are able to achieve.  Like all prized Southern occasions, players must be invited to participate in the tournament.


Horton Smith of Springfield, Missouri, was the first winner of the tournament.  Others to wear the green jacket were renowned names such as Gene Sarazen, Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, Arnold Palmer, and Gary Player.  Jack Nickolson has won the tournament a record six times; he’s followed by Tiger Woods who has won the tournament four
times.  The first international player to win was Gary Player.  This year the first Australian prevailed, Adam Scott.

The Masters honors its old and its young.  This year Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, and Gary Player, winners of thirteen green jackets, were honored by being chosen to strike the ceremonial first shots of the tournament.  Six amateur golfers were invited to Augusta this year; Tianlang Guan of Guangzhou, China, was the low amateur and the youngest, age 14, to ever win the Silver Cup.


Each year, the Masters Tournament honors tradition, provides the premier setting for golf, and ushers in spring for me.

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