DEVILLE: My first time at Augusta

There are certain things every sports fan should do in their lifetime.

See a game in Yankee Stadium. Go to Lambeau Field. Experience a night game in Tiger Stadium (wink, wink). Go to the Indy 500, Talladega or Daytona, etc.


True sports fans should do all of those things. However, every sports fan isn't necessarily a golf fan. Obviously, your everyday run of the mill NASCAR fan wouldn't necessarily appreciate a PGA golf tournament, whether you watch it on television or in person.


But whether you are a golfer or not, there is something different about Augusta National Golf Club. Sure, there are plenty of people who think golf is a bunch of old fat guys in plaid pants, but then there is Augusta. The Master's is a whole different story.


Not a fan of the game? No worries. Everyone should see Augusta National in their lifetime.


From home plate in the House that Ruth Built all the way to the goal line in the south end zone of Tiger Stadium, nothing – and I mean nothing – compares to the serenity of Amen Corner at Augusta National.


A fan of the game and an avid golfer, it has been a lifelong dream of mine to have the opportunity to step onto the hallowed ground that is Augusta National Golf Club. There is no other patch of real estate like it anywhere else in the world.


Last week I got the opportunity.


In 2001, I attended the U.S. Open at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Okla. While the U.S. Open is one of the four majors in golf, it pales in comparison to the Master's, the gold standard of championship golf. The history, tradition, pageantry and mystique of the Master's trumps all else in golf.


I made up my mind that I would journey to the small east Georgian town of Augusta and get a firsthand look at golf's crown jewel.


Who could I share this experience with?


The wife is the first person that came to mind, but that is something Beth and I can share for years to come on return trips. Rather, the Master's was the perfect opportunity for some bonding with my brother-in-law, Stewart. Since he lives in Austin, Texas, I rarely get to see him or spend any time with Beth's only brother.


Since he is a golfer, there was no better chance for quality time with the bro-in-law.

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With my brother in law Stewart Bonner in front of Augusta National's famous clubhouse.

To top it off, it gave me an opportunity to reunite with a very special person from my past. When I was a wee 18-years-old, Wally Gallian, then publisher of the Bastrop Daily Enterprise, hired me as the sports editor of my hometown paper. Knowing nothing about the business, Wally took me under his wing and taught me everything there was to know about the newspaper business. Thus, I eventually landed in Baton Rouge and I am where I am today because of him.


Wally left Bastrop in 1999 and took a job as the publisher of the Forest-Blade, a weekly paper in tiny Swainsboro, Ga., some 60 miles south of Augusta. Wally and his wife, June, own a wonderful bed and breakfast (The Edenfield House Inn) in Swainsboro.


Stewart and I met up in Atlanta after flights from Baton Rouge and Austin and then drove south to Swainsboro. We stayed at the charming Edenfield House, from where we drove up to Augusta, took in the Master's (as well as some golf at the Swainsboro Country Club) and visited with the Gallians all the while.


I could not have asked for a better trip overall filled with family, old friends, plenty of golf and the Master's.


As for Augusta, it was everything I dreamed it would be and more.


Upon arrival, the town of Augusta was bustling with activity. The streets were bursting at the seams with bumper to bumper cars and foot traffic aplenty.


We went without tickets hoping to purchase passes on the street for Tuesday's practice round. I would have liked to have seen an actual tournament round, but at $150 a pop for practice round tickets, just being there and seeing the course and the players was good enough. Heaven knows what the weekend rounds could cost? ( had four day passes for one person listing at $2800. YIKES!!)


The advantage of the practice round was that you were allowed to bring in cameras, which are strictly forbidden at any PGA Tour event. Pictures of the course, plus souvenirs from the gift shop, were pretty much my focus for the day anyway. Take it from someone who has been to many PGA Tour events, if you want to watch a golf tournament, stay home and catch it on the tube. You'll see a lot more actual golf.


Plus, the format was a bit more laid back. Players were much looser. They could be seen joking around with the other players in their groups and interacting with Augusta's massive galleries.


One of the downers of the day was the fact that most of golf's "big guns" teed off early Tuesday morning. We arrived at Augusta around 10:30 a.m., meaning we missed the likes of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh and so on.


However, we did have the privilege of following 50-year Master's veteran Gary Player through Augusta's famed "Amen Corner." The pint-sized South African was playing alongside fellow countryman Ernie Els.


We did get a chance to see eventual and most improbable Master's champion Zach Johnson, as well as other notables such as Jose Maria Olazabal, Seve Ballesteros, Colin Montgomerie, Darren Clarke, Stuart Appleby, Justin Rose and many more.


One of the people I did set out to see was LSU alum David Toms, who we caught up with two groups behind Player down in Amen Corner.


Toms enjoyed one of his best Master's finishes ever in sole possession of ninth place. Tiger Rag will have a full report on Toms from this weekend's upcoming Zurich Classic of New Orleans and its return to the TPC of Louisiana.


For those of you who haven't had the opportunity to see Augusta, here are my general impressions. I have never seen anything as pristine as that golf course. The azaleas were in full bloom – breathtaking. There was not a blade of grass out of place. You could have walked around the entire day barefooted and never have gotten your feet dirty.


Stewart had said he wanted to walk the entire course to see it. Let's just say we nixed that idea pretty fast. To say Augusta is hilly is an understatement. The changes in elevation are as dramatic as the views around the course. After we made it down to Amen Corner, we parked it on arguably one of the most famous par-3s in the world, the No. 16 hole.


One word of advice, though. When leaving Augusta National, be wary of the gift shop. Either avoid it all together or take in a specific amount of money and leave the credit cards in the car. It was expen$ive, to say the least.


I do not gamble at all, on sports, at the casino or even in the occasional card game. But by the time I got out of the Augusta National Gift Shop, someone needed to direct me to some sort of toll-free hotline with a counselor on the other end.


At any rate, the trip was a success and one that I will cherish forever. I can't say the same for the players, who suffered through brutally cold temperatures and playing conditions unseen before ever at Augusta. I do plan to return to Augusta and Swainsboro, next time most likely with Beth. But I will always remember my first time at Augusta.




Matt Deville is the editor of Tiger Rag. Reach him at

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