The allure of Augusta: Savoring the Masters magic

Story highlights

  • Augusta National opened in 1933 and first hosted the Masters the following year
  • The Georgia venue stages the season's opening major tournament in April
  • Tiger Woods' chip-in at the par-three 16th in 2005 is one of the most famous in golf
  • That year was the fourth and last time the world No. 1 donned the Green Jacket

My first visit to Augusta National was in 2005 when I was reporting for Ireland's national television channel RTE. As you can imagine, it was the realization of a lifelong dream.

For the traveling circus of working media, there is an opportunity to place your name in a lottery, with the prize for the precious few who are chosen being a round at the course on the day after the Masters concludes.

To get to play the course was always going to be a long shot, but I had decided to bring my clubs just in case.

The draw is made on the Saturday of the tournament. If you're lucky to play, you are not allowed to enter the draw for another five years, so as to allow the fairest possible chance for those interested in teeing off on one of the world's truly iconic courses.

For a first-timer, it was something akin to an out-of-body experience when I was presented with an official invitation to play. I could NOT believe it!

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The invitation is framed in our home alongside a 2005 Masters flag and a signed and marked scorecard. More of that anon.

    I was to tee off at 0730, starting at the 10th tee. Unbelievable. Literally 15 hours after the leaders Chris DiMarco and a certain Tiger Woods had graced the back nine in the tournament, so would I.

    Up early, grooves cleaned and excited beyond belief, I pitched up at the gates of Magnolia Lane and made my way up to the clubhouse to check in, meet my caddy Travis in his traditional white overalls and head to the practice range. My heart was pumping.

    I remember hitting a rocket off the tee with a hard draw and I still had a four iron to the green. The adrenaline, combined with a borderline hook, meant I bounced it over the back of the green into a bush. After a few rushed shots that confirmed my amateur status, a double bogey was recorded. We were off and running.

    All told, I enjoyed five double bogeys. And they were good doubles! The greens were unbelievable. The bumps and hollows, the scary reads -- we had them all and very early on I told myself to enjoy the experience, because this was not about the score, it was something to be savored.

    There were four of us: working press from all over the globe suddenly possessing the wide-eyed stare of excited children, with a glorious invitation to the pristine fairways of Augusta National -- living out our fantasies of actually playing the course.

    I remember playing the 16th and three-putting for a bogey. What they tell you about placing the ball in the correct position below the holes is absolutely true. On this and so many of the greens, there are impossible putts if you don't play the correct approach shot.

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    What was utterly fascinating was the opportunity to have a go at playing Tiger Woods' chip shot at 16 from the previous day, which is arguably the greatest shot in modern times at Augusta.

    Let me confirm, not that it is necessary, that the shot was impossible for mere mortals like myself. The vision to play that shot -- which helped Woods win his fourth Green Jacket -- and the ability to execute it with such perfection was God-like.

    In the end, I carded eight pars, five bogeys and those five doubles. A round of 87 of which I'm proud. We played from the members tees, as instructed, but I confess to playing on the Masters tees on all of the par-threes.

    There were so many wonderful experiences that day, as I savored the experience and stood in spots where so many iconic shots have been been struck down through the years.

    You'll always remember your first time, and for me, it was a day that I will never, ever forget.

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