By Bill Sniffin, publisher emeritus
Like Jim Neiman of Hulett and Tim Joannides of Cheyenne, I have been among several Wyomingites to attend the Masters Golf Tournament week activities in Augusta, GA.
This week, excitement is brewing as the Masters will include Tiger Woods playing. Big concern is how well the five-time winner will play after suffering terrible injuries in a car wreck 18 months ago.
Most folks call the Augusta Masters course “golf heaven.”
Neiman, who operates one of the country’s largest timber harvesting operations, described it: “I was lucky enough to get invited when Sergio Garcia won a few years ago in 2017. The place is unbelievable and beautiful. We were not allowed to take pictures. Not one stem of grass was out of place. It is maintained better than any place I have ever been.”
Joannides says: “I attended in 2009 and 2011 on a press pass from a good friend. The course is the best I have ever seen. Most surprising is how much up-and-down hiking a pro golfer has to walk during a typical round.
“I bought lots of souvenirs and ate my share of $1.50 sandwiches. The people who run that tournament really know what they are doing. They take wonderful care of their guests and the place is unlike any other golf venue in the world. I would love to go back.”
Two years ago, Joannides turned over ownership of the Halladay network of car dealerships in Cheyenne to Jim Casey. Tim said, at the time, he was not going to retire but “refire.” He said “I have a lot of things to do. I’m going to work on my classic car collection, manage family properties, and work on the family foundation. I feel truly blessed.” Plus, he plans to continue to play golf, which was the impetus for his first trip 12 years ago to the Masters in Augusta.
Long-time readers of my column know that I am fond of golf. My work and family schedule really doesn’t allow that much time for golf, though.
But for a few days in 2001, this might have been the most fun I have ever had on a golf course – and I wasn’t even playing.
For I visited Golf Heaven and walked these famous grounds. My three brothers and I spent April 2-3, 2001, attending practice rounds at the Masters Golf Tournament at the August National Golf Club in Georgia.
I had always heard that a ticket to the Masters was the hardest ticket to get in golf – not so. That is, if you are willing to settle for attending a practice round.
The tickets for the final four days of the actual tournament are as hard to get as a season ticket to the Denver Broncos. But not the practice rounds.
My brother Pat is the true golf fanatic in the family. He found out how to get tickets to the practice round. Back then, you sent in your $84 for four tickets ($21 each). They held a lottery in Augusta, and if you are drawn, you get in.
All four brothers sent in requests and my older brother Tom, who happens to live 80 miles from Augusta in Columbia, SC, was a lucky winner. Thus, we put together a quick trip down south to the most famous golf course in America.
We dressed in shorts and polo shirts but packed some heavier clothing just in case the weather turned bad. We were glad we did. It was sprinkling when we got out of the car and there in the parking lot, we put on rain gear, and unloaded our umbrellas.
Perhaps the thing that impressed me the most when we first got to the golf course was how “green” everything was. When you think of the severe winter Wyomingites endured in 2000-2001 – this was a welcome change. Flowers were blooming everywhere and you got the feeling you were walking into a big garden.
As a golfer, the biggest surprise was how steep the fairways were and how much up and down walking a person would do to play this course. There is hardly a level spot on the fairways, which made me appreciate even more the way these pros can make shots in this place.
We saw Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia, Ernie Els, Notah Begay, Vijay Singh, and David Duval on the practice tees. The practice round had been suspended for three hours because the rain had started to fall even harder.
Tiger Woods and Mark O’Meara were scheduled to tee off at 8 a.m. but were nowhere to be seen. Speculation was that when they heard about the three-hour rain delay, they jetted off to Florida or somewhere, so they could get in some practice, rather than just sitting around the clubhouse.
We took a lot of photos and bought a lot of souvenir merchandise. This is the only place on the planet where you can buy Masters stuff and I ended up with a hat, a shirt, some logo golf balls, some ball markers, and a new umbrella – as my old one was destroyed by a burst of wind during one of the frequent Augusta rainstorms.
While most people were complaining about the rain, in the same breath most said they would rather see the rain early in the week than later.
Once the practice round of golf started, we saw some incredible shots. As the PGA television commercial proclaims: “These guys are good.” Yes, they are.
Meanwhile I joined the rest of America’s golf fanatics in watching this amazing Masters Golf Tournament on TV later in the week and what a show it was. Tiger Woods won but did more than that. I believe that Tiger winning four consecutive major tournaments ranks with the most outstanding achievements in any sport in USA history. What a moment.
But back to Augusta. I would encourage anyone who is a golf enthusiast to consider taking in one of these practice days of golf at the Masters.
It is fun. It is unique. It is historic. And it IS hallowed ground (for golf).