Augusta, Ga. – It’s barely light as I write this morning at 7:12 at the Augusta National Golf Club. I arrived to the press parking lot at 6:15. It was dark and early, but no problem: A few young men and women guided me to a parking spot, handing me off as if in a relay race as they stood in the darkness waving wands that glowed red. Augusta National Golf Club runs a smooth and efficient operation at the Masters. Okay, call it military-like in its precision.
The spectators, or “patrons” as they are called here, were already lined up outside the iron gates at the public entrance to the club on the east side of Berckmans Road. Police officers controlled the flow. Gates wouldn’t open until 8 AM, but the patrons were at the ready. I thought I detected panting.
Media and other authorized personnel are allowed through the pearly gates earlier. A police officer said “one minute folks,” thereby informing people of the amount of time before they could cross Berckmans Road. I waited the sixty seconds and crossed. A security fellow fixed his eyes on my “Working Press” badge–some people think “working press” is an oxymoron, but I can assure you it’s not–and let me pass. I marched to a table where three more security people were waiting.
My knapsack with my laptop and other tools of the trade was inspected. I removed my press badge from its protective cover and handed it to him for scanning. By the way, it’s “press” at Augusta National, and not “media.” This is the one tournament where the powers-that-be actually think writers deserve at least as much respect as media who work in television. The patron saint here is Herbert Warren Wind, the master of writing about the Masters. He lived in a time when The New Yorker routinely gave him 10,000 words, and more to write essays about the Masters. Those were the days.
I passed muster at the security table, and walked a few feet to a waiting golf cart. The lady in waiting was ready to drive me past the practice area and some fancy Augusta National cottages and on to the spot where media–excuse me, press and others–are discharged. Normally the drivers wait until the carts fill, but it was so early that only one other person was at the security table having his belongings inspected. More carts, meanwhile, were at the ready because soon many more media needing rides would be arriving.
“We have enough carts,” the kind woman said, and drove on. I was the only passenger. I felt like a king. The only thing better would be a police escort.
“Yes, there’s never a shortage of carts, that’s for sure,” I told my driver, making casual conversation in the night-morning. “There’s never a shortage of anything here. They think of everything.”
She agreed. “It’s very impressive. Lots of businesses and companies take notes to learn from what they do here,” she told me. Presently, she dropped me off at the next post. A fellow was there, of course, lighting my way.
I walked the 50 yards or so through a canopy of Georgia pines–I have to use that line at least once this week, so there it is–and arrived at the press building. I was shocked, yes, shocked, when I walked in and observed media committee chairman Craig Heatley in sweat pants and sweat shirt behind the counter, having just arrived. The New Zealander is of course an Augusta National member. Soon he would change into the green sports jacket that identifies all members on the property–including new members Condoleeza Rice and Darla Moore, the first female members of the club. But still, well, as I say, I was stunned. Really, truly. Seriously. An Augusta National member on the property in sweats! I turned to my right, to my favourite part of the press building. That’s an alcove where every morning I pick up the following publications: The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Augusta Chronicle, with its special, daily, Masters section. Does life get any better? I moved quickly but carefully–no running allowed at Augusta National–up to my seat. That’s G33, seven rows up, and on the corner of the row. I’ve sat in Row G every year in the press building, but in an aisle working space only for the last couple of Masters I’ve attended. Lucky for me, because there’s nobody to my right. I’m an aisle kind of guy. Hey, I’m 6’3”. I need my space.
Anyway, I meandered up the few flights of stairs and along a hallway and past another security fellow to the press dining area. I was towing my three newspapers, and was ready to dine. Coffee, scrambled eggs, fruit. I sat down at a round table, and commenced to dine and read. But what was this? The table wavered. This was as shocking to me as seeing Mr. Heatley in sweats. Surely the floor in the dining area should be perfectly flat, calibrated perfectly so as not to shake.
I forgave the unexpected development and tucked into my breakfast. Headline in the Augusta Chronicle’s MASTERS 2013 special section, page one: Opinion on anchoring awaited.” Yes, the Augusta National and Masters tournament chairman Billy Payne is expected to make his opinion known on the vexing matter of anchoring the putter during the annual Wednesday 11 AM press conference. Will he shake things up? What will Mr. Payne say?
It’s light now. The sun is streaming through the tall Georgia pines into the press building. I see shadows on my colleagues in lower rows to my right. Morning at Augusta National has broken. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must get back to the morning papers, and another cup of “Masters Blend” coffee. Actually, everything here could be called “Masters Blend.” It’s a potent blend, and it works. Ah, that morning sun, streaming through the tall Georgia pines. (I had to say it again).
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Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association’s first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada’s Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 12 books, including Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); This Round’s on Me (2009); and the latest Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf’s Mysterious Genius (2012). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein