Loran Smith: Masters Week

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Loran Smith: Masters Week

Loran Smith
Loran Smith

This is Masters week which happily connects one with fascinating yore and unending memories of the playing of the extraordinary championship where landscape, tradition, nature, and environment are equal to or surpass the genius of competition.

You cannot recall the great moments at the Masters without linking compelling golf course drama with the blooms of spring, the inspirational natural environment, and an atmosphere which enraptures competitor and spectator alike.





If we try to conjure up what the Garden of Eden was like, no Masters aficionado could imagine it being more spellbinding than the grounds of the Augusta National Golf Club.

Masters green is such an emotionally comforting color and then for Mother Nature to complement it with the blooms of the spectacular dogwoods and azaleas is simply uplifting and spiritual.  The cathedral of pines which accompany all that floral splendor makes one feel blessed just to walk the grounds.

I grew up on a farm in Middle Georgia about an hour and a half from Augusta but did not know much about golf and the Masters tournament.  We did not subscribe to a newspaper that would have had sports coverage of the tournament.  It was in high school that I discovered the Masters tournament.





Big League baseball and high school football were the sports that captured the attention of folks that I knew.  Golf was for the affluent and well to do.  At that time, I could have visited my cousins in Augusta and could have bought a general admission ticket for $5.00 and walked the fairways virtually within arm’s length of the biggest stars in the sport.  Hogan. Snead. Nelson. Demaret.  Middlecoff.

One April day in 1960, a friend I met in journalism class, Carey Williams, whose family owned the Greensboro Herald-Journal invited me to go to Augusta for the final round of the 1960 Masters.  As a distance runner on the Georgia track team, that Sunday was an off day following a home meet on Saturday.

Even at that time, the officials at the Augusta National would provide two complimentary season badges to any legitimate news outlet.  My contribution was to drive my ’50 Ford to the tournament and pay for the gas which was 31 cents a gallon, a little more than three dollars for the round trip.

I was blown away by the golf course, the crowds, and the golf competition.  Arnold Palmer was emerging as a superstar, the beneficiary of perfect timing with the advent of network television.  His charisma and swashbuckling style were perfect for TV.

Ken Venturi was in the Clubhouse with a final round 70 and a 283 total with Palmer playing the final two holes.  Arnie birdied both for a one stroke victory.   It was a signature moment I would never forget.  In my mind’s eye I can see Arnie’s approach shot land on the surface of the green and kick slightly in direction of the flagstick.  

He lined up his putt and then backed away.  He could hear the slight purring of a movie camera.  An official asked the cameraman to cease and desist.  He complied.   Then Palmer resettled in his knock-kneed stance and calmly stroked in the 12-foot putt to claim his second Masters title.

It was the most fascinating circumstance I could imagine.  The golf course, the setting and the colorful spectators and drama.  Women were impeccably dressed and looked like the beautiful coeds who walked the campus of the University of Georgia.

Carey and I stayed for the trophy presentation at the 18th Green.  Don’t remember what the late Bobby Jones or the late Arnold Palmer said in their remarks.  I just remember that I was enthralled and overwhelmed.

The next year and every year afterwards, I covered the Masters for the Athens Banner Herald.  Next week will be my 65th consecutive Masters and I am as excited as ever although I can no longer walk the course and follow the leaders as I once did.

I will enjoy a classic Crispy Crème doughnut and a cup of coffee in one of the rocking chairs on the front porch of the Media Center in the morning, then at noon a pimento cheese sandwich and a Diet Coke.    

One of the most rewarding features of the Masters is that you can have your own love affair with this great sporting event without enjoying superstar status with a competitor’s badge.





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