It was around 4pm on the eve of the 2014 Masters and the final preview pieces had been filed.
Those afforded invitations to tee-up in the next day’s first round of the opening Major of the year were away either competing in the Par-3 Contest or elsewhere doing what they had to do to prepare themselves for the tournament proper.
The ‘Cathedral in the Pines’, as Augusta National is fondly named, was now closed to any further practice rounds and aside for a few greenstaff, there was not a single soul on the golf course.
This was not about to deter the three who had gathered on the First Tee – good friends and colleagues Euan McLean (Daily Record), Neil McLeman (Mirror) and myself.
After rain had washed-out Monday’s first official practice round and with it still overcast on Tuesday and also Wednesday morning, the afternoon on the eve of the Masters turned to a glorious sunny Spring afternoon.
A game of golf beckoned, but how could we get onto Augusta?
We entered the Pro Shop and surprised to be advised ‘Yes’, the course was open and the green fee, including a set of rental clubs, was $10 and with tax added that made it $10.80 each.
I thought to myself how good is this …. We get to play at Augusta on the afternoon before the Masters for just $10.80. $10.80!
The attendant told us:
“If you would like to hit practice balls it’s $5.00 a small bucket, $7.50 an average size bucket and $10 for large. Also, if you need golf shoes there’s a rack over there (pointing to the rack) of second-hand golf shoes for $5 a pair.”
We thanked the attendant and looked at each other in responding: “No, thank you. We’ll just head to the first tee.”
So, here we were, three members of the 2014 Masters accredited media and we’re going out to play Augusta on the eve of one of the most-watched golf events around the globe.
We were in golf’s heaven.
It is less than five miles from the front gates of Augusta National on Washington Road to the 6-hole ‘First Tee of Augusta’ course on Damascus Road.
The course is a mix of a lone par five, two par fours and three par threes, and for $10.80, yes 10.80, you can play as many loops as you like.
If fact, we played two loops with not a soul on the course and here it was, 4pm on the day before The Masters.
It’s a great golf course, with obvious snapped tree tops due to a recent storm, with a variety of tees so no matter your handicap, there is reward for golfers at any level. And just because it’s not the usual 18 holes there’s no reason to feel short-changed on fun.
I have to indulge in some chest-beating as the unthinkable nearly happened in playing the second hole, the second time around when my tee shot hit the base of the flagstick and then rolled left around the hole, stopping an agonising inch from the cup on the right side.
Alas, my first hole-in-one in the Northern Hemisphere was not to be.
“Great shot, Bernie but then you might as well have been 10-feet away,” I think I heard one of my very ‘dear’ friends say.
Surprisingly, there are parts of the course where you could be easily forgiven for thinking you were out on Augusta National as a couple of holes mirror the Georgian golfing gem where four days later Bubba Watson would capture his second green jacket in three years.
In fact, Augusta National is one of two major sponsors of The First Tee of Augusta with a plaque on the wall in the clubhouse identifying Augusta had donated $1m to their neighbours.