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Vacation includes visit to Golf Heaven

Would I be willing to drive 600 miles to see a bunch of PGAstars practice?

Would I eagerly seize the opportunity to visit Golf Heaven?

Yes and yes again.

This scribe and his wife made the 11-hour drive to Augusta, Ga.last week as part of our vacation. Thankfully, Laurie encouragedthe trip to The Masters. In fact, she had been at work behind thescenes, many months ago, making plans, while yours truly coveredthe local sports scene.

A vacation in early April usually found me plowing our gardenplot and running the Weedeater, plus doing a little fishing andgolfing if time permitted. For a change of pace, this Masters eventwas a dream come true.

To say the least, we certainly enjoyed the in-person opportunityto watch the PGA’s best at work and at play. The Masters practicerounds on Monday and Tuesday are casual and laid back. Fans areallowed to bring cameras on the grounds during practice and chatwith the players. Autographs and posed photos with pros are part ofthe scene. Of course, cameras are forbidden during the four roundsof serious competition.

Folks, if you enjoy golf, either watching or playing it, plan onmaking at least one trip to the Masters during your life.

What word best describes the Augusta National Golf Club?

Take your pick: beautiful, pristine, immaculate, pure, woodsy,ethereal.

For the unknowing pedestrian walking the sidewalk outside theclub, the beauty inside would bedazzle them. Large, thick greenhedges, approaching 20 feet in height, mask any clue of what’sbehind the bushes.

Thousands of people were present for the first two days ofpractice. Compare it to Disney World for a middle-aged man. Thesegolf-crazed folks were awake before the crack of dawn and patientlywaiting outside the gates at 6:30 a.m. And this was just for thepractice rounds.

Once inside the gates, another series of entrance gates awaitedthe visitors, complete with metal detectors and security guards. Totheir credit, the guards were friendly but thorough. It resembled asecurity checkpoint at an airport.

Only small purses were allowed to be carried by the ladies.Belly bags were a convenient and popular item. Only small camerabags were permitted on practice days. Only folding chairs with noarms were allowed on the course.

After passing security, the fans were greeted by a sea ofbeautiful green grass and green buildings. Along the road outsidethe gates, people held signs begging for tickets. A Masters ticketis a hot item, even for the practice rounds.

For sure, the price of food and beverages is extremelyreasonable. Bottled water goes for one dollar and so do the softdrinks. Everything is wrapped in green, including the sandwiches.Perhaps the most popular is the famous egg salad sandwich. Cost is$1.50.

My boss, Bill Jacobs, had stressed the importance of trying theegg salad sandwich. Pimento cheese was popular, too, on wheat orwhite bread.

Everywhere, azaleas and dogwoods were blooming. Folks withallergies would be wise to bring plenty of antihistamines.

Laurie and I found a great location along the No. 16 fairway. Itwas shaded in the morning and the afternoon sun was still gentle.We watched and applauded a series of famous golfers go throughtheir practice routine as they strolled from hole to hole.Naturally, Tiger Woods had the largest following.

Hole No. 16 is a picturesque, 180-yard par-3. A large hill loomsabove the fairway and is completely smothered by an assortment ofcolorful azaleas. A narrow lake covers approximately 110 yards fromthe tee box to the lightning-fast green.

The players often hit two tee shots as they made notes in theiryardage books regarding each hole and possible pin location. Theyputted from all sides of the green and hit shots out of sandbunkers, trying to retain mental pictures.

“SKIP! SKIP!”

Folks seated in the dark green bleachers and other fans liningthe fairway voiced encouragement after each group of golfers madetheir tee shots. What they wanted them to do next was skip theirballs across the lake to the green. Each attempt, either successfulor a failure, was greeted with applause.

Naturally, Tiger Woods was the best skipper. He skipped twoballs simultaneously across the lake and received a thunderingovation.

On Easter Sunday, unknown Iowa native Zach Johnson was presentedthe coveted green jacket by defending champion Phil Mickelson.Johnson was rewarded with more applause and a lifetime position atthe Masters.

Write to sports editor Tom Goetz, c/o The DAILY LEADER, P.O.BOX 551, Brookhaven, MS 39602 or e-mailsports@dailyleader.com