A wise man once told me, “The Masters is the only thing in life that will never disappoint you.” After returning from my first trip to Augusta, I can’t say I disagree. Augusta National Golf Course is every bit as beautiful as it appears on television. In fact, you could argue that television does not do the course justice, especially the topography. There isn’t a blade of grass out of place, and the azaleas were all in full bloom (even those that hadn’t yet bloomed appeared ready to burst by Thursday’s opening round). The tournament is the epitome of efficiency, as they have mastered (pun intended) the logistics of concessions, bathrooms, merchandise and the such at a major sporting event. The meticulous attention to detail is amazing: the wrappers are green so that they blend into the grass if patrons miss the trash cans and rumor has it that they actually shampoo the squirrels.
Needless to say, simply attending the tournament would have been an amazing experience. Our luck began when a good friend won the lottery for tickets to Wednesday’s practice round and Par 3 Tournament. Our luck continued when, after spending Wednesday walking the course and soaking in the atmosphere, we were able to find tickets within our budget for Thursday’s round on the walk back to the hotel. We were scheduled to take a shuttle that left at 6:45 a.m. on Thursday morning and unfortunately, that shuttle left without us. Alas, our luck had run out and we would be making the trek down Washington Road to the course, tickets & chairs in tow.
We were about 30 yards from the hotel when a car stopped alongside my two friends. A random stranger was offering us a ride, so of course we broke every parent’s first rule and hopped right in the car. The driver looked worse off than we did from the night before, chatting us up in an Australian accent and claiming he’d “drank like yesterday was the last day they were making liquor.” It turned out that he was on his way to pick up his friend and drop him off at the course, so he thought he’d offer up a ride to three knuckleheads along the side of the road. Sitting in traffic, we made small conversation: Have you ever been before? Where is the best place to post up our chairs? What group are you planning on following? The stranger was in the middle of an answer when my friend cut him off to ask him about a sticker on the car’s dash that read: “Honorary Invitee, Magnolia Lane Entrance”. When we asked the driver how he got the sticker, he replied, “Ah, somebody left it there.” We asked if his friend was a player, which drew a chuckle out of our hungover chauffeur; it turned out that his friend, D.B., was the founder of the discount golf shops throughout Australia and had given our driver his first ever golf lesson.
After shoving five grown men into the Buick sedan, we continued down Washington Road towards Augusta National. We passed by the gate that we had entered the previous day and before we could ask another question, we turned right onto Magnolia Lane. We stopped at the guard shack to show ID, and the officer handed our driver back his card–”Welcome back Mr. Grady.” My first thought: “Is this really happening?!?!” My second thought: “Who the hell is Mr. Grady?” As we proceeded down Magnolia, wide-eyed like a teenage boy watching his first porno, D.B. broke the silence by saying, “Soak it in boys ’cause you’ll never be doing this again.” We slowly approached the clubhouse and hung a left before the Founder’s Circle. We proceeded down the road a little farther and Mr. Grady stopped the car, indicating the end of the line. We got dropped off just north of Butler Cabin and while still in a state of shock, we thanked Mr. Grady and headed towards the tee box on #1.
At that point in time, it hadn’t yet sunk in what had just happened. We stumbled in a state of delusion to the first tee, not even realizing that the only people in the area were members and their guests. It finally clicked about five minutes later that the gates had not yet opened–we were on the course before the rest of the general public! We situated ourselves as close as possible to the tee box, fitting right in between two big-wigs in green jackets. After hearing a commotion behind us, we saw police officers and volunteers escorting the general public up to the first tee in preparation for the ceremonial tee shots. A few minutes later, an applause erupted behind us; Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, and Gary Player were walking through the crowd and headed for the first tee. Their caddies set the bags down within an arms length of where we were standing, and the three of us were in utter disbelief. We were close enough to fist bump three of the greatest golfers of all time, surrounded by CEOs & millionaires, and all thanks to Mr. Grady.
NOTE: Stop at the 3:34 mark on this ESPN video–my friend is in the bottom right hand corner in an orange hat with a HUGE smile on his face.
After watching the Big Three officially begin the Masters, we
floated walked our way to the 16th green to place our chairs for the day. Still in disbelief and needing some food, we stopped at the concession to regroup and pick up a tee time sheet. As we are reviewing the sheet, a name catches my eye: Wayne Grady…Mr. Grady!!
As it turns out, Mr. Grady is an honorary non-participating invitee to the Masters. With no phones or technology available, we still have no idea who he is or why he was invited. We check out one of the free programs that we received upon entering and come to find out that Wayne Grady was the 1990 PGA Champion. This sends us into another giggle-fest that would annoy a group of middle-school girls on a sleepover. After finally calming down a bit, we head back towards the front nine to follow a group. We bounce conspiracy theories around in our heads–someone must be punking us or at least set this whole thing in motion. We settled on the fact that we were just the benefactors of good luck, but were convinced that we were due for something to go horribly wrong. Accepting the fact that Thursday at the Masters could very well be our last day on earth, we walked the course, drank some $3 beers, and spent the remainder of the day gambling on #16.
We said our final goodbyes to Augusta National and were forced to exit the golf course with the rest of the general public. We gave Scott Van Pelt a shout out as we passed the ESPN tent and caught the shuttle back to the hotel. We were hoping to run into Wayne Grady in order to thank him and potentially buy him a drink, but unfortunately, he wasn’t in his room. We decided to find some food and as we headed towards Washington Avenue, we passed an Outback Steakhouse. Jokingly, someone mentioned how it would be pretty funny if Wayne (an Australian) was eating at a stereotypical Australian themed restaurant. With nothing better to do, and more importantly, to humor ourselves, we took a chance and walked into Outback. Sure enough, standing at the end of the bar, drink in hand, was Wayne F-ing Grady. We walked over and re-introduced ourselves, thanking him for his kind gesture. We re-enacted our day and the car ride to the course, realizing how idiotic we must have sounded considering the man played the course numerous times. The rest of the night was spent drinking and telling stories with a PGA Champion, who took advantage of his perks and success to make someone’s day. When asked why he picked us up, his response was “because I could, and besides, I couldn’t believe you three idiots were planning on walking the whole way there.”
Thank you Wayne Grady, for making our Masters experience absolutely unforgettable. And thank you for being such a humble and thoughtful person.