Here is my account of a truly memorable week in the Southern states of America. Hosted by partner and Investor in Talent – Julian Howard, we were joined by Jenahura Patrons; Graham Blogg and Toby Thomson.
Wednesday 5th April 2017
Greeted with perfect conditions, we tee’d up on the world famous Pinehurst No. 2 course. Winter rust was evident in all our games but it didn’t detract from the enjoyment. Amazingly, one of our caddies had been carrying bags at Pinehurst since 1954! It’s fair to say, he has seen it all – well almost!! Just as we left the 18th green, the heavens opened, as indeed was the case at Augusta National where the par-three tournament had to be cancelled due to a violent storm.
Thursday 6th April 2017
The storms passed through over night and we headed to Pinehurst No. 8 (there are a total of nine courses at Pinehurst Resort). A terrific course played in windy conditions challenged us all but we were round just in time for coverage of The Masters to start on CBS. Propping up the Members Bar at Pinehurst we enjoyed some local brew and some great golf in treacherous conditions.
Friday 7th April 2017
Eager anticipation as we drive to Augusta to join former Open Champion and Ryder Cup Captain Darren Clarke for dinner. With typical Irish charm Darren shared some terrific stories about fulfilling his childhood dream by becoming Open Champion and his friendship with Tiger Woods. Meanwhile, just across Rae’s Creek the field is tightly bunched and at this stage impossible to pick a winner. A couple for the road and we are just one more sleep away from treading the hallowed turf of Augusta National. The excitement is building.
Saturday 8th April 2017
It’s moving day at The Masters. It’s an idyllic spring morning at Augusta National. It’s a first time visit for Graham Blogg and Toby Thomson. It may be my third visit (and Julian’s 8th) to The Masters but the excitement is no less intense – for golfers this is IT – the place to be in early April. An infectiously warm welcome from the incredible Augusta staff and we march to our desired vantage spot for late in the day action. We position our patrons chairs on the right side of the 15th green. The pin is set just near the bunker to the right of the green. Perfect!
Time for some retail therapy. The merchandise “superstore” located near the first fairway has just about everything you can possibly imagine – embroidered, tastefully with the iconic Masters logo.
Chairs in place. Shopping bags bulging. Time for some breakfast at Berckmans Place. Courtesy of our hosts we have access to “Berckmans – by Invitation only”. No words can really describe the facilities available to a select number of Augusta Patrons. Berckmans is simply out of this world. Click here to read my 2016 blog which best describes my first impressions, nonetheless second time around is no less impressive. In fact, I almost feel like a “regular” so am less awestruck and more focussed on the task in hand – leaving ones merchandise with the concierge and a champagne breakfast, naturally! The attention to detail at The Masters is extraordinary – it never fails to astonish me. As I am exiting the buffet breakfast area with my plate filled with Southern delights, a perfectly turned out chef politely says “When you return to your seat sir, your server will see you have chosen pancakes and will return with hot sauces and syrup”… Seriously? That is service but in truth, no real surprise – this is Augusta National. Appetite satisfied, its time to tackle the replica Augusta National greens at Berckmans Place… yes, you have read this correctly – there are three greens which have been built and are maintained to the exact same standard as the greens on the golf course. For ordinary golfers like us the task ahead is daunting. No problem – you are guided through the experience with Augusta National caddies – clad in iconic white boiler suits. Incredible!
The early starters are now on the course and the famed Augusta roars are starting to reverberate. Experienced ‘guides’, Messrs. Howard and Norris take Blogg and Thomson for a stroll around the course. The first thing you notice when you arrive at Augusta National is just how hilly the course is. The second is just how perfect the grass is. Third is just how quick and undulating the greens are. The Masters is a test of precision and skill – fit only for the very best players in the world. There isn’t a breath of wind and the conditions are perfect for scoring. Some of the pin positions however are fiendish and only the players on the very top of their form will move through the field. Notable Augusta specialists; Day (69), Westwood (68), Casey (69), former champions Adam Scott (69) and Charl Schwartzel (68) make moves in the right direction. Meanwhile, veterans Couples (74) and Mickleson (74) head the other way. Garcia (70) and Fowler (71) consolidate their positions at the top of the leaderboard. Two names catch everyones attention – Spieth (68) and Rose (67) make significant moves – the cream is rising.
Having walked pretty much the entire course, we spend the afternoon in the warm sunshine by the side of 15 watching the action unfold. A truly great day and the stage is perfectly set for an epic Masters Sunday. To cap off a wonderful day, we we were joined at dinner by recently appointed CBS golf host and double major champion – Dottie Pepper who was not only charming but is an incredibly knowledgable historian of the game and terrific company. Her hero was Seve Ballesteros and although impartial definitely had a soft spot for a Sergio victory on Sunday.
Sunday 9th April
The day dawns and its another cracker – clear blue skies and a gentle breeze. A low score is there for the taking. First things first… Chairs out – this time on the side of 16 – perfectly positioned to witness the approach shots to 15 and enjoy the magic of the par-three 16th. Next up, champagne breakfast…. naturally 😉 We then tackle the “gentle” putting green at Berckmans. Toby and I choose the TaylorMade Spider putters used by Sergio Garcia and John Rahm to good effect – a sign perhaps? We watch some of the early action on the opening holes before returning to Berckmans for further refreshments. The atmosphere is starting to build. This is my second Masters Sunday. Last year, I found a great spot by the side of the first tee – I love to watch the intensity and activity around the opening shots and see into the players eyes, especially in a major championship. It’s no secret that this is the one tournament players want to win (on a par with The Open) and no disrespect to the US Open or US PGA, to become Masters Champion is the holy grail for tournament professionals. The final two pairings catch the eye – the all American dream duo of Fowler and Spieth followed by the final match, European heavyweights; Rose and Garcia. Rickie and Jordan both find the fairway bunker to the right of the first fairway. Justin and Sergio rifle perfect tee shots down the middle – as it turns out the shape of how things unfolded. There was a calmness, a focus about Sergio that I hadn’t seen before.
Having followed the early exchanges we took our position by the side of 16, delightful… just in time to see Matt Kuchar hole in one! The roar was deafening – a hole in one roar at Augusta is different to the others – perhaps due to the cathedral like effect of the huge pine trees that overhang the green – it truly is a magical scene. With Spieth and Fowler faltering and no one making significant moves from the pack, the tournament turned into a head to head battle between two friends and giants of the modern game. And what an epic battle it turned out to be. To be there will stay in our memories for ever. From our vantage point it appeared as though Sergio hit the pin on 15. His eagle putt seemed to take an age before finding the bottom of the cup. Both players struck outstanding tee shots at 16. You could cut the atmosphere with a knife. As the gladiators headed for the 17th Tee, Rose one ahead we headed to the sanctuary at Berckmans Place to watch the drama unfold. There was no doubt that sentiment was with Garcia – arguably the most popular winner since Fred Couples in 1992. A brilliant battle ensued – terrific sportsmanship, incredible talent and great heart from both players. Being English, we were sad for Justin but with all of Sergio’s near misses in majors we were all thrilled with the outcome. His reaction to the winning putt will surely be the pinnacle of his career but who knows with his major monkey now dead and buried I wouldn’t put it past Sergio to win more and if there is any justice, Justin Rose will also don a green jacket some day soon.
Time to depart the scene and reflect on an unforgettable couple of days in the Georgia sun with perhaps a glass or two of Rioja. Congratulations Sergio!
Monday 10th April
Departing Augusta was actually quite eery… it was incredibly quiet along the Washington Road but fortunately for us we had one final golfing treat in store. Courtesy of our friends at Club Inc. we headed to Charlotte Country Club for 18 holes before heading back to London. A wonderful experience at a classic Donald Ross course. Our golf was an anti-climax to all that went before but we enjoyed the walk amongst the magnificent Oak trees and were certainly wowed by the incredible clubhouse.
A fitting end to another spectacular Jenahura Patrons trip to The Masters… Roll on 2018!
Professional photography courtesy of Reuters Media Express
Screen shots extracted from Twitter