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  • Writer's pictureMike Petchenik

Masters Memories

Early in my news career, I had the opportunity of a lifetime to cover one of the greatest events in all of sports: The Masters.

Every April, thousands of patrons descend on the otherwise sleepy town of Augusta, GA for an incredible week.

If I close my eyes, I can still conjure up the smell of freshly cut grass, cigar smoke, and blooming azaleas.

Being a patron at the course is a treat in and of itself, but for media members, the experience is nothing short of magic.

So, on this Masters Week, I was inspired to jot down a few of my favorite Masters Memories from my Augusta stint from more than twenty years ago.

Martha vs. Hootie

I had the great fortune of covering the tournament during a relatively tumultuous and newsworthy time at the golf club (that's much more fun for a journalist) when a previously little-known activist named Martha Burk waged war against its members for refusing to allow women to join their ranks.

For weeks leading up to the tournament, Burk and her cohorts put on a PR pressure campaign the likes of which the green jackets had never experienced.

I was assigned to cover the annual chairman's press conference on Wednesday of tournament week, and to produce a story about the Burk-led battle.

I remember meekly raising my hand to ask William "Hootie" Johnson, a gentile Southern man right out of central casting, about the controversy. This many years removed, I don't recall exactly what I asked or how he responded, but I do recall my heart pumping, beads of sweat forming on my forehead, and my voice raising a few octaves as the question left my lips.

Up the street, mostly out of view of Augusta National, Richmond County Sheriff's deputies had cordoned off a field for protesters to gather. An odd assemblage of characters showed up, some in costumes, others carrying posters with messages of support for women's rights. Amazingly, reporters and photographers outnumbered the group by about two to one, but the spectacle was enough to lead local and national newscasts for days.

Burk ultimately got her way, and in 2012, Augusta National extended membership invites to two women.

Media Days

Another incredible perk of covering the tournament is that media members have the opportunity to play the course. Back then, and I'm not sure how it works today, national media played their round the day after the tournament ended. Then, at the end of May, before the course closed down for the summer, local media and tournament vendors got their shot.

In my newsroom, very few people knew how to golf, so those of us who'd swung a club before got a chance to put our name in the hopper for one of several passes. In three of my four years at the station, I won the proverbial lottery.

Words can't quite describe the amazing experience, but I'll try to do it justice here.

Our days typically started with a pancake breakfast at the IHOP across from the course, and then when the gates opened around 7 a.m, each credentialed media member received their tee time.

When I say Augusta National rolled out the "green carpet," I mean it.

We had free reign of the club from dawn til dusk.

While we waited for our tee times, ANGC allowed us to play the Par 3 course as many times as we could muster, they treated us to a BBQ lunch, and granted us full access to the clubhouse, the Crow's Nest (where amateur golfers sleep during the tournament), and the pro shop, all of which are off-limits during the tournament.

One year, it rained cats and dogs the ENTIRE day, but we played through as if the sun were shining brightly.

Another year, a colleague who shall remain nameless, thought it would be a good idea to drive his golf cart (no, they didn't give us caddies) across Hogan's Bridge on the iconic 12th hole. I don't remember what happened to him, but I suspect he was banned from the course after that.

I still have my scorecards framed in a shadow box (and no, I don't believe for a second that I shot a 122: I gave myself MANY mulligans).

The experience is so amazing that I'm aware of at least one journalist who decided to stay in Augusta for his entire career, at least in part, so he can play the course annually.

I've been fortunate to return to AGNC one other time as a spectator since my reporting days in Augusta, and every year I hold out hope that a benevolent friend will reach out at the last minute to offer me their badge :).

Every year around this time, I feel a tinge of nostalgia about those days and experiences, and am thankful to have had them.

Happy Masters Week!

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