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AUGUSTA - Deep within the Augusta National Golf Club clubhouse proudly hangs a 1934 edition of the Augusta Chronicle newspaper. In a headline buried just beneath the fold, golfing legend and tournament co-founder Bobby Jones predicts that the new Augusta club ‘could one day become famous.’
Some 82 years later, as the world prepares for the 80thMasters tournament (1943-45 were cancelled due to World War II), Jones’ statement rings with foresight and a chuckle of humility.
“The Masters has given myself and every young golfer something to aspire to, to dream of, and to be part of its history means more to me than anything,” three-time Masters champion and annual Augusta advocate Phil Mickelson said Tuesday. “I just love the event.”
It’s a patch of land with strip malls across the street. It’s rolling hills and blooming azaleas painted beneath the Georgia heat. And it’s the world’s most pristine playground, a place where every detail is cherished within its gates.
“I think that an example of the many things that take place here is the newly renovated Masters Champions locker room this year. Now, this is only going to affect 25 or 30 people. That’s it. And (the club) spent a lot of money to make that champions locker room twice as big inside and twice as nice,” Mickelson said. “And that’s just an example of every detail being thought through…and they do that for every experience, for the fans…every detail is done to perfection.”
It sounds almost absurd to say, given the rich history of one of sports great treasures, but Augusta’s annual weeklong display to the world is only growing in reputation with each passing year.
“I think that the Masters Tournament, probably more so than any other tournament, continues to grow in stature,” six-time Masters Champion Jack Nicklaus said Tuesday on the 30thanniversary of his historic Augusta victory in 1986. “When you have a situation where you’ve got one golf course, one location to stay at year after year after year and you continue to be the first major each year, the only tournament to control your own finances and everything else, you have the ability to do a lot of things.”
Thursday through Sunday, a new piece of history will be written on Bobby Jones’ ‘could one become famous’ grounds. The winner will have survived a course whose legendary beauty coats a ferocious, relentless test of golf. The patrons will have experienced a place where simplicity is ornate.
And one coat colored like the spring Augusta grass will change a man’s life forever.
Vince Johnson is covering his eighth Masters Tournament. Follow his coverage all week live from Augusta National Golf Club.