Outsiders creep closer to Augusta National
By Greg Sullivan
Masters Week is a big deal for golf fans, especially for those in nearby cities like Madison. No doubt more than a handful of Madisonians loaded up their cars and made the 95-mile drive over to our state's second biggest town last weekend.
But don't think for a minute that there aren't those out there who are envious of Madison folks and their close positioning to the prestigious club.
I've heard from a reliable source that there were more than a few Louisiana license plates spotted in Augusta National's lots this past weekend.
They say changes are coming to the historic event. ESPN, after all, covered it this year for the first time and set cable ratings records.
With more people from Louisiana coming, presumably more each year as they spread the word of their experience and start bringing friends, a lot of questions pop to mind.
The main question being: What will happen if people from the top half of The Boot were to follow suit? Could such a trip be made for a golf tournament, even one this important?
"I think we opened the gate," said Andrew Hastings, a golf fanatic who drove with his brother and two friends all the way from Little Rock, Ark. to see Friday's round.
Hastings was quick to concede that he enjoyed his time in Augusta and he and his friends would tell others of what Augusta has to offer. Hopefully, this won't mean Oklahoma commuters next year.
So should we expect more people from Arkansas? Hastings was hesitant to answer that question. He also refused to reveal what changes he thought would have to be made in Augusta for the city to be more accommodating for people hailing from Arkansas.
Hastings' refusal was diplomatic. Of course, I could think of a few changes to help those from Arkansas. Before I could finish a sentence, I was interrupted.
"I think they need to keep it exactly how it is," Hastings said. Strange, he could be a spokesman for the Golf Club.
For full-disclosure, I've known Hastings for years. He attended the University of Georgia a few years back and then moved back home to the Natural State.
It's a testament to the magnanimity and magnetic nature of the Masters, I imagine, that it could draw a group to drive approximately 10 hours just to take in one round of action.
It was the only time, to my knowledge, that Hastings had traveled east of the Mississippi in the past two years. Nothing else, it seems, is compelling enough or worthy.
Athens, and for that matter, Madison, is much safer for it. I can tell you that firsthand.
At any rate, Hastings' odyssey towards the Interstate-20 corridor was almost cut short. Tornadoes and bad weather ripped through Little Rock in the days surrounding the group's departure.
"We knew we'd have to drive right back through that," Hasting said.
Still, however, the group trudged on, enduring severe weather in Memphis on their way to Augusta and a storm in Atlanta on their trip back home.
Illustrating their dedication to golf, or in a gross underestimation of how fast they were going to be driving, they arrived in Augusta at 4 a.m. Friday morning. This gave them time to check into a hotel, sleep a couple hours and make it down to the course before the gates opened.
While I was pulling into the Morgan County Citizen office at around 10:45 a.m. Friday (It's my article so I can say what time I think I got to work) the group had already nearly logged a full work day's time in and around the golf Mecca. Of course, they wouldn't be leaving until around 7:30 that evening. That adds up to 15-and-a-half hours of glory that would change the lives of four young men forever, I editorialize a little here.
"Everyone was very friendly," Hastings said. "Whenever you talked to somebody it seemed like they knew somebody from Arkansas."
"We were the only drunk people there," he said (The columnist has no way to verify the validity of this statement). "The whole trip was just really fun."
Although, Hastings said he's sure that many fans may have flown to this year's Masters, everyone seemed impressed by the group's drive.
"I don't know anyone that drove further than Arkansas," he said.
As someone with only rudimentary knowledge of Augusta and little, if any, on Little Rock, I tried to follow-up with questions for Hastings Sunday night in a phone interview.
"There're some golf courses [in Little Rock]," Hastings said. "But not as many as there are in Georgia. And do they compare to Augusta National? No."
Still, however, Hastings said he prefers Little Rock over Augusta.
"It's a small town with a lot of stuff to do," he said of the place where he's spent the majority of his life.
So I guess that means, at least in this case, we don't have to expect an Arkansas man to find the grass greener over here. Or if he does, he still prefers his own grass.
My next question would have been if he would consider at least moving a little closer to the tournament, say to Madison. I can only assume, unless there's a short cut I'm unaware of, that he drove through here.
But then, as a guy who makes his living as an accountant, he did something not all that surprising.
He told me, more or less, the interview was over since he was allegedly staring down a pile of his younger brother's tax forms. It was April 13. Is Madison better than Little Rock? I'll try and get the answer for you later.
On another note, it would be nice to show an air of confidence when filling out forms related to money. But that can't outweigh the consequence of possessing skills of any use to your family and friends.