AUGUSTA, Georgia – From the vibrant Valspar in Palm Harbor, Florida to the magical Masters in Augusta, it has been a bookend golfing sojourn unlike any other.
It began March 13th by escaping another nasty, wintery March in Massachusetts and landing in Tampa to a glorious Gulf of Mexico sunset amidst sunny 80-degree weather.
Then, the next morning it was off to Round One of the Valspar Championship at the iconic Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Golf & Spa Resort, which I had the pleasure to play this past December.
With a strong field that featured Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson, Sergio Garcia, Jim Furyk, Jason Day, Jon Rahm, Patrick Reed, Steve Stricker, Keegan Bradley, Henrik Stenson, and Louis Oosthuizen, it was defending champion Paul Casey who outlasted them all to become the tournament’s first-ever back-to-back winner.
But in between the start and finish were four fun-filled days that started as always in Florida with perfect weather, leading to record galleries watching many of the world’s best players while smelling the sea air just down the street.
Of course, shorts and short-sleeve shirts would be the four-day uniform for all, setting a buoyant tone for the thousands who were all just happy to be there partaking in the myriad of activities.
From the thousands assembling at the driving range on Saturday evening for the Brad Paisley concert to the US Army parachutists landing near the 18th green moments after Casey won to keep the patrons entertained while the awards ceremony was set up, this tournament’s unique vibe combines riveting competition while featuring fun for all.
Then three weeks to the day after my arrival in Tampa, here I was parking for free in the Masters lot on another 80-degree day granted by the Golf Gods for the venerable Wednesday Par 3 Contest at Augusta National.
One year ago after attending Moving Day on Saturday at The Masters, I wrote on NewEngland.Golf that “you go through the gates in what reminds one of when the Wizard of Oz switches from black & white to color,” and that memory was resurrected yet again on Wednesday during an even sunnier and warmer day.
After traversing practically the entire course while walking to historic Amen Corner and the frequent tournament-turning Par 3 16th over the water, I came upon Tiger Woods at the 7th hole playing his practice round with none other than fellow Masters Legend Fred Couples and Justin Thomas.
Fortunately, they had just teed off and I was able to get on the ropes at the 7th green, which minutes later was 25-deep with the massive gallery following the premier threesome.
Then after watching them hit their tee shots at the 8th, I headed off to the signature Magnolia Lane-Masters flower logo & Clubhouse, featuring a lengthy line for free photos taken by three professional Masters photographers.
After enjoying this Masters perk, it was time for the traditional Masters lunch of both an egg salad and pimento cheese sandwich at a cost of basically pocket change.
From there, it was just a short walk for the first-time experience of attending the Par 3 Contest, where as we all know the players’ children both play and caddie for their fathers while wearing the famous white uniforms.
The post-lunch crowd was out in full force in the course adjacent to the main track, and its condensed layout built into mini-hills and valleys provided spectacular hillside viewing and vistas, where from most any vantage point you could see three or more holes.
Best of all, the Par 3 featured its own version of seemingly-nonstop Augusta Roars as a precursor to what would follow the next four days, adding for me yet another Masters tradition to my personal Augusta scorecard.