Trip to the Masters stirs joy, memories

How do you describe a trip to Augusta National Golf Club during Masters week? Here's a hint: it doesn't take too many words.

"Euphoric" is how first-time visitor Kurt Gies described it. Gies was there with his brother, Eric, and mother, Jimie, who in December was in intensive care in a hospital.

But on Wednesday the Daytona Beach, Fla., native walked all 18 holes at Augusta during the final practice round before the tournament began Thursday. She even met NFL Hall-of-Fame receiver Lynn Swann and got to hold his Super Bowl rings.

The trip was a celebration for both Kurt, a Navy veteran who served before and after 9/11, and his mother. Eric, an investor living in New York, said he's been to Augusta several times and has played the course three times. He was able to get tickets for his brother and mother this year as a present for her 80th birthday.

Kurt said coming to the Masters had been a lifelong dream. After seeing the famous Amen Corner (holes 11, 12 and 13), he said, "I almost started crying."

Over on the par 3 course where the annual par 3 contest was going on, sisters Trudi Young and Elizabeth Burnette were relaxing on a hillside enjoying the gorgeous spring day. Both are Augusta natives and attended the Masters growing up. They said there have been plenty of changes over the years.

Young pointed out how the course has become more fan friendly and said today there are a lot more restrooms and concession stands spread across the grounds.

Burnette remembered how you used to be able to just walk up to the gate and buy a ticket the week of the tournament. But today people buy tickets months, if not years, in advance.

Things can get pretty frantic around the course when the tournament is being played as tens of thousands of people follow their favorite players and jostle for seats in the most popular viewing areas. But with Wednesday being a practice round there was a relaxed feeling around the historic venue.

People walked easily along the fairways while talking about the layout of the course.

Wayne Garland, of Charlotte, stretched out and smoked a cigar between the 7th green and 17th fairway.

People stared at the flawless greens and fairways and wondered out loud, "Do they dye the grass?"

Patrons had a laugh while listening to course marshal Ed Lake tell a story about when he gave Jack Nicklaus a ride on a golf cart years ago.

And fans cheered as Italian player Matteo Manassero skipped his ball across the pond and onto the green at the par 3 16th.

As Jimie Gies put it, the day was "phenomenal."