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SO YOU WANT TO PLAY AUGUSTA NATIONAL?

(Excerpted from Golf, In So Many Words, The 257 Most Essential Things to Know About the Game of Golf, (The Epilogue), Thomas Finley, Publish America, 2004

As you learn more about the game of golf and get hooked, one thing you will probably realize at some point is an overwhelming, all consuming desire to play a round at Augusta National Golf Club. Most golfers I know would hock the family jewels for an invitation to play. It is considered by many to be the most exemplary golf course in all the world. The club is so exclusive that on one beautiful fall afternoon several years ago a member of the club reportedly could not find another member on site. Frustrated he called an acquaintance from Augusta and invited him to play as a guest. Those two were the only golfers to play Augusta National that day. Now, that’s exclusive.


A friend of mind was afforded an opportunity to play Augusta a couple of years ago and it is an implausible story. I’ll change names to protect the innocent. I’ll call my friend Charlie Smith. Well Charlie is a man in his early 60’s and a huge golf enthusiast. He is a very good golfer with a single digit handicap. Charlie is also a very distinguished gentleman who is the CEO of a marketing firm plus very active in fundraising for charitable organizations and in Christian leadership. He is an extremely nice man as you might imagine and enjoyable to be with on the golf course. Even with Charlie’s contacts in the business world and in politics he had never been invited to tee it up at Augusta. It had always been a burning desire, especially since he lived in the South and only a short drive from Magnolia Lane. Well one afternoon Charlie got a phone call from a client, Mel, who happened to be in the golf business.
“Charlie, Mel said, can you free up on Friday?”
“What’s up, Mel? Charlie responded.
“Well, I can arrange for you to play Augusta, if you can free up.” Mel chuckled.
“Free up, heck, I’d cancel a meeting with the President to play Augusta.” Charlie retorted.
“I figured as much. Well, here’s the deal.” Mel sounded secretive. “At 7:00 am on Friday morning be at the front gate with your clubs. Just park somewhere in the area. There will be two other gentlemen meeting there as well. Wait for a black fellow who will let you in the gate. His name is ‘One-Eye’ Willie.”
“’One-Eye’ Willie, what kind of name is that?” Charlie queried.
‘‘One-Eye’ works on the greens crew. He’s a good guy and he’s going to get you on the course.” Mel said matter-of-fact like.
“Okay, I’ll be there.” Charlie felt a little bit funny about the invitation but what the heck it was the chance he had been looking for.


On Friday morning Charlie arrived on time and there were two other rather distinguished looking gentlemen already at the gate. They introduced themselves and discussed the details of the invitation which they had each gotten. All three were awaiting someone named ‘One-Eye’ Willie. Eventually the gate eased open and a thin black man with a patch over his left eye and a cigarette dangling from his lips limped forward. He seemed older than expected and somewhat crippled. He smelled heavily of cigarettes, whiskey and sweat.
“I’m ‘One-Eye” Willie, ya’ll follow me. Just get in the back of the truck and hold on tight. Mr. Charlie, you ride with me in front.” They crowded into the tiny Toyota electric-powered pickup made for golf course maintenance. Willie proceeded to drive them up magnificent Magnolia Lane and over to an out building next to the clubhouse. “You two gentlemen can ride in that golf cart but that is the only one we have left. Mr. Charlie, you can ride with me in the truck.”


It was a beautiful May morning but Charlie could only see a couple of other people meandering around. He was surprised that caddies were not made available for he had always heard Augusta National was a walking course and did not have carts. Being so close to dawn probably explained the lack of any noticeable activity. Each of the three guests had looks of puzzlement. They proceeded directly to the first tee.
“Now ya’ll enjoy yourselves. I’ll drive Mr. Charlie and try to stay out of ya’ll’s way.” Willie offered.


Charlie took his driver out his bag which was laying in the back of the truck and advanced to tee up his ball. Sure enough he was finally playing Augusta National. He wasn’t offered the opportunity to use the locker room or warm up on the range but, by golly, he was on the first tee. The golfers accompanied by ‘One-Eye’ Willie headed up the first fairway, two in a golf cart and two in the little Toyota pickup. It was a gorgeous day and the fairways and greens had just been mowed. The smell was of freshly cut grass, pine with a slight scent of sour mash bourbon. Wow, what a place, Charlie thought to himself. At age 63 he felt he had finally arrived in the world of golf. He was finally playing Augusta National.
At the fourth hole, Willie who had been rather quiet, finally moved forward and made a suggestion.
“If ya’ll don’t mind I’ve got to leave for a little while. Does ya’ll have anything for me?”
“How much, Willie?” Charlie asked.
“I’d say about three hundred, each, cash.” Willie was looking down and scratching his head. “If ya’ll don’t think that’s too much.”
“Not at all!“ one of the men blurted. They had each expected this moment, so they handed Willie his money. He limped away, off into the distance. Charlie thought that Willie was perhaps going off to spend some money. It was obviously a good pay day.


The three men continued to play. They occasionally saw some of the grounds crew but no one came up to them or looked at them askance as they made the turn. Charlie, nattily attired in a new golf outfit, drove the truck with his clubs in the back. They were all having a terrific time trying to shoot their career round on this great layout. Charlie, in particular, was playing very well. As they rounded the dogleg on eighteen and headed up the hill toward the final green and clubhouse, the site ahead caused Charlie to gasp, stop the truck and slump down behind the steering wheel. He stared at the clubhouse. There must have been two to three hundred people, men in green jackets and ladies dressed elegantly awaiting lunch on the lawn. The tables all had linen tablecloths and green and white umbrellas. It was a member’s luncheon. Charlie thought for a moment and it came to him; this must be the last day of the season. The club was closing for the summer and this was a member’s party. My gosh, he felt really embarrassed, as he drove that grounds’ crew truck up to the hill. “Here I am,” he mumbled to himself, “a most successful businessman, educated and cultured, a refined, well traveled gentlemen, finishing up my round at Augusta, in front of the entire membership, driving a maintenance vehicle.” As he approached 18, he recognized Willie who was raking the big bunker in front.


“Mr. Charlie, I’ll take ya’ll down to the gate when you finish,” One-Eye offered.
The three executives putted out in front of their very prominent “gallery” and off they went...piled in their tiny Toyota... to the front gate. As they departed Charlie smiled and shook Willie’s hand and thanked him. “You’ve been a terrific host, Willie. I hope to see you again next year.“ He had developed a fondness for this man.


Charlie drove home by himself but with a big grin on his face, the whole trip back. What he had just experienced was one of those special moments in life. He would never forget “One-Eye” Willie, his playing companions or that phenomenal golf course. He tried to decide if he could ever relate this story to anyone who would understand or believe him. He couldn’t wait to call Mel.


If you are a beginner in golf I hope that you have been introduced to the game by this book in such a way that you will enjoy it more. Being aware of the heritage and traditions of golf plus having some understanding as to how it is played and by what rules and standards should elevate your interest. My whole intent was to increase your overall knowledge and awareness of the game. To millions, it is the greatest game one can play. It is certainly a game for a lifetime.


Should you be an occasional golfer perhaps you have learned some things you can apply to your game. Maybe you will be encouraged to play more often. Go hit a bucket of balls and work on that short game Find a professional to help you out. Let me suggest that you try not to think of all 257 items listed in this book as you get ready to swing your golf club. Narrow down to only a few. Don’t forget to laugh and have a good time. And smell the roses! Remember, if you make the right connections in life you just might get invited to play Augusta National.


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