I was invited by Fred Ridley who is the chairman of the organising committee and a former US Amateur champion and Walker
Cup captain. He has played in the Masters and the other Majors and I had done some work for him and this was his way of saying thank you. We played there the week before the Masters two years ago, they close the course on the Tuesday, a week before the tournament starts.
I played four rounds there, on the Sunday afternoon, twice on the Monday and one more round on the Tuesday before it shut.
We stayed in one of the cabins and were looked after unbelievably well. You drive down Magnolia Lane, park the car and from then on they will not let you do anything.
If you stay there you all eat at the same time, there is one sitting at 7.45pm and you walk in and see all these familiar faces. I had a very embarrassing situation where I thought I recognised someone but I couldn’t quite place him and it turned out to be the former vice-president Dan Quayle. Butch Harmon was there and Paul Casey was playing behind us.
The food is surprisingly ordinary, fried chicken and potatoes, but they have the most fantastic wine cellar which you can have a tour of. I went up to the Bird’s Nest where the amateurs stay which is fantastic and there is some wonderful memorabilia.
The locker I was given was next to Jack Nicklaus’ one so that was brilliant.
I had the same caddy, Eddie, for all four rounds and I put all my trust in him. He is employed by the club so when the club is shut during the summer he goes to work at Whistling Straits and comes back to Augusta for the winter.
The caddies make the difference, the first time I played the 12th I ignored him and went for the flag and ended up in the water. He told me that Jack Nicklaus always aimed at the middle of the green so I did that and after that I was fine.
We played off not the championship tees but the back ones and it was a recovery club for me. You have to rely on the caddy on the greens, you would be told to hit the ball in completely the opposite direction and it would come back down to the hole.
The caddies make the difference, the first time I played the 12th I ignored him and went for the flag and ended up in the water.
It is a long, long course and it is difficult to hit a bad shot and there are some vast expanses of land in places. It is very hilly and you are really tired at the end of the round. If you take the 1st for example you have this massive dip where the fairway just disappears, at the 2nd the elevation drop is very dramatic.
Every hole has got a slope on it but it is generous in terms of space and you never get a bad lie. And the big thing for me is how your drive just stops as they mow the grass into you and you can’t putt from off the green or play bump and runs. You can see why someone like Phil Mickelson does so well there.
The greens are the key to it and, if you are in the wrong place, you are in trouble. You can’t hit the ball firmly on the greens, in time you learn to look at a spot halfway to the hole and putt to that.
What surprised me? I particularly liked the 15th as you really have to hit a good third shot in, at the 13th I was surprised how much space there is down the right. There are some enormous differences for the Masters, at the 11th the tee was possibly 150 yards further back. I didn’t find that hole as difficult as it appears on TV which I can only put down to the tee being so far back.
The course isn’t as spectacular as you would think but, with the atmosphere, it is fantastic. The same year I was lucky enough to play Pebble Beach and I have to say I enjoyed that more. The tradition at Augusta is like nothing else but, to play, I preferred Pebble Beach. I had an eclectic of 75 over the four rounds, playing off nine at the time, which I was really pleased with.
DR ALISTER MACKENZIE
The one thing that disappointed me, being an Alwoodley member, is that the designer Dr Alister MacKenzie is irrelevant to them. I was shown the original layouts, which they don’t display anywhere, and the course was originally laid out with the nines
the other way round. Fred told me that he had found a letter in the archives that MacKenzie had never been paid by Augusta and he found a letterthat the great designer had written to Clifford Roberts asking to be paid.
Mr Roberts had replied saying that the country was in the middle of a depression and that the club was short of money and, I’m told, that MacKenzie was never paid before he died.