- - Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Words cannot describe what a tremendous time Callista and I had at the Masters golf tournament this past weekend at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia.

It was our first visit to one of the most famous golf venues in the world, and we were enthralled by its beauty, the thoughtfulness of the staff, and the power of its history.

It was a weekend without cell phones and iPads – and consequently without Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Vladimir Putin or ISIS. And frankly neither of us missed their absence.

What was most impressive and surprising about the Masters was that the event is about so much more than golf. From the pimento cheese sandwiches to the peach ice cream sandwiches (both tributes to the tournament’s location in Georgia), there are more experiences than you can imagine.

There is also an amazing amount of history at the Masters.



But, first, the golf.

Of course this will go down in history as the extraordinary year that Jordan Spieth, having last year become the second youngest champion ever (after Tiger Woods, who was just a few months younger), and having dominated the first three and a half rounds of the tournament, suddenly collapsed on the twelfth hole with a quadruple bogey.

On Sunday, Callista and I were sitting on the 16th hole, watching the third hole-in-one of the final round, when word began to spread of Spieth’s collapse.

At 22 years of age, Spieth is a brilliant young golfer who should take comfort from the fact that it took Tiger Woods four years to win his second Masters (from 1997 to 2001). Spieth will be back, and we will look forward to watching him.

We had a special personal interest in this year’s Masters because a remarkable family friend was making his debut. Daniel Berger, who just turned 23 on April 7, was playing his first Masters. His father, Jay, a former top-10 professional tennis player, worked at the United States Tennis Association with our son-in-law, Paul Lubbers. Paul and our daughter, Kathy, have known Daniel since he was six years old. They watched him develop into a terrific golfer. Paul and our other son-in-law, Jimmy Cushman, got to spend Friday walking the course and watching Daniel compete at the highest level of competitive golf.

Callista and I really enjoyed watching Daniel Berger. He had a great rookie round, ending up tied for 10th with seasoned golfers like Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, and Brandt Snedeker. Daniel’s first Masters paid $230,000 for tying at 10th — an encouraging start for a fine young man.

While golf is at the heart of the Masters, the entire experience is much larger than golf.

It is hard to imagine how Augusta National recruits, trains and manages so many people for just one week of intense activity. Local residents take time off from their normal jobs to lend a hand. Hospitality students from South Carolina come to Augusta for the week and learn a great deal about taking care of people. Many return year after year to work at the Masters.

Thousands of people are welcomed, guided, fed, assisted, and given a chance to buy a wide range of Masters memorabilia. It is all done by very kind people who demonstrate southern hospitality, enabling thousands of visitors to enjoy great golf in a beautiful setting.

Over the weekend, we met Lynn Swann, a former Pittsburgh Steeler (inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame) and a member at Augusta National. Shortly afterward, it was fun to visit with Condoleezza Rice, one of three women members at Augusta National.

Augusta National Golf Club was founded by Bobby Jones, one of the greatest golfers of all time, and Clifford Roberts in 1933.

Bobby Jones wanted an elegant retreat for his friends where they could enjoy each other and golf. He and Roberts created a tone and atmosphere that remain to this day.

My favorite Augusta National story is about the Eisenhower tree. This was a huge loblolly pine that stood right in the middle of the 17th fairway.

President Eisenhower, an ardent member of Augusta, visited 45 times (5 before he became president, 29 while he was president, and 11 times after he retired from the presidency).

Eisenhower was an enthusiastic golfer and this tree was driving him crazy — because he kept hitting it. Finally, in 1956, Eisenhower went to the Board of Governors meeting as a member and made a motion to cut the tree down. Cliff Roberts, president of the club, ruled him out of order. Ike, of course, accepted the ruling as a mere member.

Imagine the moment.

Here was a retired five-star general, former commander of the Allied forces in Europe, who was at the time the extraordinarily popular president of the United States – and he was ruled out of order.

No one could dictate. Everyone had to abide by the rules. This is the spirit of Augusta National and the spirit of the great championship that occurs there every spring.

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