By Nash Wills, Staff Writer
Washington Road is really just one long road with different names at different points. You can take it west until it turns into the 104, go out towards Clark’s Hill and cross the lake where you’ll eventually hit the Hardee’s—Carl’s Jr. here—in Lincolnton and turn left on your way to Athens. I always take that route on my way to the University of Georgia. It’s just more scenic. On the other hand, although I rarely do it, you can take Washington Road east through downtown on your way to Charleston. To the unknowing traveler, Washington Road is, by all accounts, bland. It’s kind of dirty, there’s always traffic, and both sides are lined with strip centers full of chain restaurants, department stores, and failed would-be local establishments. In fact, if you weren’t paying close attention while sitting at the inevitably red stoplight at the intersection of Berckmans and Washington, you would never even notice that you were passing right by the greatest golf course in the world that for one week each year is home to the most legendary sporting event of the modern era.
The history of the Augusta National Golf Club and consequently the Masters Golf Tournament is steeped in folklore. Founded in 1931, Bobby Jones purchased the sacred plot of land, which was once an antebellum indigo plantation and arboretum from the Civil War era, for $70,000 with the plan to design a golf course on it. Being that Jones was one of the most famous athletes in the world at the time, there was a lot of anticipation surrounding the development. It was due to this that a couple of years down the line when Jones decided to host an annual tournament on the grounds it was an immediate hit.
The actual tournament itself is hosted during the first full week of April each year—the unofficial start to springtime in Augusta. It is the first of golf’s major championships, the only one to be hosted at the same site each year, and the most difficult to be invited to compete in. Tickets to the tournament, colloquially referred to as badges, are nearly impossible to come by. They aren’t sold online, or even at the gate. They are only given away through a lottery system every couple of decades and can therefore only be bought from those who have been lucky enough to win the lottery over the years. The tournament is also unique in that there are no cell phones or cameras allowed on the grounds, and scores are still kept manually rather than electronically. Golf etiquette was invented at The Augusta National and respect for the game is of paramount importance while inside the gates. All “patrons” are dressed appropriately in Masters attire and bad behavior is collectively frowned upon. In fact, if your behavior is deemed disrespectful, you will be escorted off the grounds and your badges will be taken away for life. Being that badges can only be purchased from those who have won them through the lottery system, this is a big deal because odds are the badges are not yours to lose. The course is famous for its beauty, maintaining exotic plant species from the original arboretum from over 150 years ago, the most famous of which are the abundant azaleas. It is also famous for its exclusivity–membership at the club is consistently maintained at 200 and only past winners and members are given the chance to wear the famous “green jacket.” To me, though, as an Augusta native, the course and the tournament represent so much more.
This time of year is always nostalgic for me. It is really the only time in which I find myself longing to go back home, wanting to be there more than anywhere else in the whole world. For myself, The Masters is springtime. It is when the dull winter months that have turned the landscape brown transforms into a world of life and color. Everything is in bloom. Everything is alive. The world is green and pink and red and purple and the landscape is painted in yellow pollen. The transition is liberating and gives life an entirely new outlook, one full of hope and excitement for the future. In Augusta, not only does the landscape change, but the city itself does too.
What was once a medium-sized antebellum town almost immediately turns into a bustling metropolis. Natives rent their houses out and leave the town, and an entirely different population characterized by people from all over the world replaces them. This populace comes in with a palpable excitement and anticipation. For them, their trip to Augusta is a vacation. During Masters week it is not unusual to see Brad Pitt walking through your neighborhood, to see Zac Brown playing a concert in someone’s front yard, to see John Travolta eating at the table next to you, or even to see Tiger Woods on the treadmill at the Omni Health and Fitness at 5am every day before the tournament. And this is what I think is different about my view of springtime compared to that of others. For me, spring is change and excitement in every way, shape, and form, and it is all the more wonderful because it is signaled by one singular seminal event. In Augusta, it seems as though the tournament tradition has seeped into the culture to the extent that all life—the birds, bees, plants, trees, people, and grass—heeds the call and comes into bloom.