Tuesday 12 December 2017

Paul Kimmage: 'Nobody can comprehend what it's like' - Ireland's players and caddies tell Masters inside story

Ireland’s players and caddies tell the Masters inside story

Dermot Gilleece with Joe Carr's Green green jacket in Sutton golf club. Photo: David Conachy.
Dermot Gilleece with Joe Carr's Green green jacket in Sutton golf club. Photo: David Conachy.
Paul Kimmage

Paul Kimmage

Two letters. On February 1, 1967, a lawyer called Robert Tyre Jones Junior from Atlanta, Georgia, sent a typewritten letter to a businessman in Dublin called Joseph Benedict Carr. Mr Tyre Jones Junior - or Bobby, as he was known - was the best amateur golfer in history and the founder member of Augusta National Golf Club. Mr Carr - better known as JB - was a three-time winner of the British Amateur championship and one of the best golfers Ireland has ever had.

Dear Joe,

To my great delight, I have just found on my desk your letter to Cliff Roberts saying that you will play in the Masters this year.

Please be assured that it will give us all, especially me, much pleasure to welcome you. I hope you will have your game in the best possible condition and that we may be able to cause you to have a good time.

With best regards,

Sincerely,

Robert T Jones Jr.

On January 4, 2017, a businessman called William Porter Payne from Atlanta, Georgia, sent a typewritten invitation to a professional sportsman in Dublin called Shane Lowry. Mr Porter Payne - better known as Billy - is the Chairman of the Augusta National Golf Club. Mr Lowry - better known as Shane - is a former Irish Open golf champion and has won tournaments on both sides of the Atlantic.

The Board of Directors

of the

Augusta National Golf Club

cordially invites you

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland stands on the second fairway with his caddie J.P. Fitzgerald during the second round of the 2016 Masters Tournament at Augusta Photo: Andrew Redington/Getty Images
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland stands on the second fairway with his caddie J.P. Fitzgerald during the second round of the 2016 Masters Tournament at Augusta Photo: Andrew Redington/Getty Images

to participate in the

Two Thousand and Seventeen

Masters Tournament

to be held at

Augusta, Georgia

the sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth

of April.

William Porter Payne

In the 50 years between the two letters, more Irishmen have climbed Mount Everest than have played or caddied at the Masters. This is the story of their quest for the Green Jacket.

Rory McIlroy: I've never seen any of my invites for Augusta. They've always been sent to the office and not my home address. I'm not sentimental like that. I knew I was eligible to play and that's good enough for me.

Paul McGinley: I've no idea where my first invite is. I've no recollection of it at all. I was top 50 in the world and that was validation for me. I understand people are different, but for me it meant nothing.

Graeme McDowell: My mail went to Chubby's (his then agent, Chubby Chandler) office in 2005, so I don't remember physically getting the invite in the door.

Padraig Harrington: Did I get one in 2000? I must have. You're going to find me out here.

Joe sinks long putt at Masters in 1967.
Joe sinks long putt at Masters in 1967.

Graeme McDowell: Fourteen Irishmen have played at the Masters. Really?

Padraig Harrington: I'm surprised how few have played.

Graeme McDowell: You want me to name them?

Colin Byrne: I like a quiz.

Jude O'Reilly: The first Irishman to play at the Masters . . . I should know that.

Graeme McDowell: Easier to start in reverse: Rory, myself, Darren, Shane, Padraig . . .

Rory McIlroy: Myself, Padraig, Darren, Paul, Graeme, Shane . . .

Graeme McDowell: Michael Hoey . . . McGinley . . . so that's seven . . . Feherty . . . Rafferty . . . McGimpsey . . . Jaysus, struggling here.

JP Fitzgerald: Once you get the amateurs - and we've had four I think - you'd get most of them.

Dermot Byrne: Brian McElhinney.

Colin Byrne: The guy from the North who won the British Amateur in the '50s.

Graeme McDowell: Did Paul Dunne get a knock?

Dermot Byrne: I'm guessing now. Bradshaw? O'Connor? Darcy? Struggling here.

Padraig Harrington and Shane Lowry of Ireland react to a shot during the Par 3 Contest prior to the start of the 2015 Masters Tournament at Augusta. Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Padraig Harrington and Shane Lowry of Ireland react to a shot during the Par 3 Contest prior to the start of the 2015 Masters Tournament at Augusta. Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Ronan Flood: Senior didn't play . . . I don't think Junior played.

Graeme McDowell: Did the 'Waltz' play?

Shane Lowry: Jaysus! How many have I got? Eight?

Padraig Harrington: That's nine.

Graeme McDowell: Ten.

Rory McIlroy: Eleven.

Paul McGinley: Twelve

Dermot Gilleece: Fourteen Irishmen have played at the Masters; Joe Carr (debut 1967), Christy O'Connor Junior (1977), Garth McGimpsey (1986), Ronan Rafferty (1990), David Feherty (1992), Darren Clarke (1998), Padraig Harrington (2000), Paul McGinley (2002), Michael Hoey (2002), Graeme McDowell (2005), Brian McElhinney (2006), Rory McIlroy (2009), Alan Dunbar (2013), Shane Lowry (2015).

Padraig Harrington: I should have got Rafferty.

Dermot Byrne: I should have got Feherty.

JP Fitzgerald: I wouldn't have got Rafferty but I can't believe I left out two of the most obvious (McDowell and Lowry)!

Graeme McDowell: Alan Dunbar! Should have got that one. Jaysus! Grew up with the kid.

Rory McIlroy: I've Googled (the two I'm missing), Rafferty and Feherty.

Dave McNeilly: I can't believe I forgot Rory and McDowell.

Colin Byrne: How could I erase Clarke from my memory?

Ronan Flood: I didn't think Junior had played.

Rory McIlroy: I had no idea JB Carr was the first Irishman to play at the Masters.

Paul McGinley: I knew Joe Carr was the first.

Graeme McDowell: Joe Carr? Jaysus! And I bumped into John Carr last night.

Padraig Harrington: Joe Carr is kind of synonymous with the Masters.

Paul McGinley: I remember as a kid playing with the Hilary Society at Sutton with my dad and seeing a photo of him playing Augusta on the wall.

 

1 Man in green

Now every pro who tees up the ball on opening day at Augusta is guaranteed a check of at least $1,000, which will cover a round-trip ticket from about anywhere in the world. Last year 29 invitations were sent to foreigners, and 24 of them showed up. This year the foreign invitations were cut to 25, and 23 were accepted. (Missing are England's Neil Coles, who does not like to fly, and Ireland's Christy O'Connor, who has a foot injury).

And finally there is Joe Carr, the popular 45-year-old Irish amateur who is making his Masters debut at long last. Carr, who won the first of his three British Amateurs as long ago as 1953, is now past his golfing prime, but there is not an amateur in the world with a more distinguished record than this tall, handsome Irishman. No matter how he performs, he is a stimulating addition to the Masters field.

Sports Illustrated, April 1967

There were three golf stories in the Irish Independent that morning: an 800-word feature, 'St Andrews - Home of the Game', by Barry Nolan. A story that Grange Golf Club, who had just become outright owners of the land "their fine course is laid out on," were to host a new event - a Scratch Foursomes. And the news that Christy O'Connor would participate in the Shell Wonderful World of Golf series at Royal County Down in June. Previous matches had been staged at Killarney and Portmarnock, but this was the first time the series had been brought to the north. "At a press conference in Belfast yesterday, the plans were outlined for the event, and a film of the match between Joe Carr and Californian Al Geiberger was screened."

It was the only reference to Carr in the paper on the morning - April 6, 1967 - when he would become the first Irishman in history to play at the Masters.

Joe Carr: I learned when I first got there that I was the recipient of a special invitation from Cliff Roberts (the chairman of Augusta National). In fact I became a member of Augusta National in 1967 and I retained my membership for about five years. But the annual subscription was about $7,500 which I found difficult to justify, even though I could afford it at the time. It was a lot of money in those days for what was only an annual visit.

Roddy Carr: I think my father was the first Irishman who was invited to be a member, and as a member, you got a green jacket. I don't know if there was, or wasn't, a regulation (about taking it from Augusta) at the time but he wore it to Sutton Golf Club and around the house. So we were never really awestruck by it, nor was anyone else, because there was no real appreciation of what it was about.

Joe Carr: They gave me the honour of playing the opening round with the defending champion, Jack Nicklaus. This was a great thing. As we're going around with close on 5,000 people watching us, they're shouting, 'Go get him, Jack. Go, go Jack'. And, of course whoever played with him was supported as well. So they shouted, 'And you too, Irish'. But it transpires that I shoot 76, 74 against Jack's 72, 79 which means that I qualify (make the cut) and he doesn't.

Roddy Carr: I was 17 when he played the first time. There's a lovely photo of him in Sutton making an eagle on 15 (see below) but there was no appreciation here for what he had done. To put it in context: here was a part-time golfer with a 9-5 job and six kids to raise (playing) after a long, hard winter in Dublin. And look at who he was playing against - Nicklaus and Palmer and Snead. It was incredible really.

Dermot Gilleece: I first met Joe in the '60s, in my capacity of covering tournaments here in Ireland. Augusta would have been a million miles from my mind when I met him at that stage. In fact, I don't think anybody was even aware that Joe had played the place. It didn't register. The Masters didn't exist for us. There might have been a paragraph in the paper that he had finished down the field. There was no consciousness of it.

England's early hero, Tony Jacklin, faltered in the final round with a 77 for a 292 total, nine strokes ahead of Welshman Dave Thomas.

(Gay) Brewer, who was beaten in a play-off for the title last year, netted £7,142 in prize money, while (Bobby) Nichols received £5,000, (Bert) Yancey £3,214, (Arnold) Palmer £2,330, Jacklin £760, Thomas £460.

Ireland's lone representative, the Walker Cup Captain, JB Carr, slumped to a final round 84 for a total of 313.

Irish Independent Masters report

April 10, 1967

Roddy Carr: He was using an old wooden-shafted putter and he wore a white cap with a green bobbin on the top - my mother used to knit them - and that was his signature. He was 'Joe Irish' - the ambassador over there.

Joe Carr: The next year they paired me with Arnold Palmer. And Arnold's Army are doing their thing and shouting 'Go get him, Arnie'. And again I'm getting the consolation murmurs of 'And you too, Irish'. And I shoot 75, 73 as against 72, 79 from Arnold, with the result that I make the cut and Arnold doesn't.

Jack Nicklaus: Joe was a great friend. I'm certainly not alone in that assessment. He had a wonderful sense of humour and was a champion on the course. Joe was also a champion needler and full of fun, on and off the course. He was a cheery, fun-loving guy who was always willing to exchange barbs with you.

Roddy Carr: He always had his practice rounds with Nicklaus or Palmer or Snead; they all loved playing with him because they would have a bit of craic and always gambled. I was just tuning into golf at that stage, but there was no real appreciation of the spectacle, the awe or the respect he was held in America, and the fact that he could make the cut. It was a joke really when you think about it.

Jack Nicklaus: Joe, like many of us, never shied away from a friendly wager and I must have played about, I suppose, 50 practice rounds of golf with him, including for the British Open. It was almost as if Joe knew that at each Open Barbara wanted a new sweater, and he was always very accommodating to fund that purchase. But trust me, Joe still got in my pocket plenty of times.

Joe Carr, blending sixes and birdies almost at consecutive holes, finished in 78 for 295, and if he tailed the field in the end he could well satisfied, indeed, to have stayed in contention in such company to the end.

Irish Times Masters report,

April 15, 1968

Joe Carr: When we sat down to eat on the Friday night of the tournament, Cliff Roberts said: 'Well, now. We're thinking of inviting Carr back next year but who in the name of God will play with him?' So they gave me Sam Snead in 1969 and neither of us qualified.

Roddy Carr: I went to Augusta in '69 and watched him play and practise. They put him with Snead that year and they both missed the cut. I was a good player at that stage and played the course on the day after the tournament but I couldn't break 90. People had no conception of the greens - it was like putting on glass! So it's mind-boggling that he could compete on a course like that.

Dermot Gilleece: Given that he was 45 years old and a decidedly streaky putter whose best displays were behind him, Joe performed admirably on his Augusta debut. By 1969, however, the relentless strain on nerve ends had taken its toll. With rounds of 79 and 76, Joe missed the cut in the company of the 1967 champion Gay Brewer, Snead, Hubert Green, Peter Thomson and Michael Bonallack. In fact, the casualties also included Tony Jacklin, who would capture the British Open crown at Royal Lytham a few months later.

Joe Carr: I would love to have played the Masters in my heyday, instead of in my mid-40s, but I didn't get the chance. So I feel I'm entitled of the fact that I could go over there and play all four rounds on such a difficult course at my first two attempts, especially when so many of the great names failed.

 

2 Guess who's after winning the Masters?

On April 6, 1977, almost 10 years to the day after Carr's debut at the Masters, The Irish Times led their sports pages with a picture of a young golfer, Bill Mulcahy, and an 800-word report from the International Schools Championship (Leinster section) at Newlands. Buried on the same page was a short (300 words) preview of the Masters, and a brief reference to the first Irish professional to play in the event:

Ireland's Christy O'Connor Junior and Britain's Tony Jacklin, Peter Oosterhuis and Tommy Horton are among the 77 starters, including 55 American professionals and eight amateurs.

Dermot Gilleece: The message being pumped from the Masters at that stage was the 'Bobby Jones tradition'. Now, with the greatest respect to Bobby Jones, this simply didn't register with people here, nor would you expect it to. Ask anybody now what they think of the Masters and the first thing they'll tell you is: 'It must be a wonderful place to visit. I believe it's far hillier than it looks.' They never talk about anything other than how it looks. We didn't know any of that because television hadn't done its job at that stage. People didn't know what Augusta National looked like. A combination of two things - television and European winners - that changed everything in the '80s.

Shane Lowry: I knew Christy Senior never played, which is strange, because he was invited loads.

Rory McIlroy: I didn't think there was a way Senior could have qualified back then.

Dermot Gilleece: Starting in 1956, Christy Senior received at least 10 invitations, as a current Ryder Cup representative. Contemporary magazine reports indicate he was bowing to persuasion from Joe Carr in 1967, when the two of them could have travelled together. In the event, Christy withdrew shortly before their scheduled departure with a foot injury. His main argument for not going was that if he got invites to one or two tournaments associated with the Masters - either before or after it - he could then justify the expense of making the trip. But that wasn't going to happen, and he would have known that from people like Peter Alliss and Harry Weetman and Bernard Hunt, who did go. Without wishing to be unkind to him, I don't think he quite appreciated the significance of the Masters in the grand scheme of things. His focus didn't really extend beyond European tournaments and, of course, the Ryder Cup. Mind you, he was sorry afterwards he didn't play it. In fact, he once told me: "Maybe I should have gone."

Colin Byrne: I knew Junior had played.

Ronan Flood: Junior did play. How did he qualify?

Dermot Gilleece: In 1991, Ronan Rafferty walked out of the US Open and was fined £5,000 by the European Tour. The reason was very simple - it was very difficult to get European players into the American Majors. That's what made Junior's appearance unusual. He was invited as joint-winner, with Tommy Horton and Mark James, of the Braid Memorial Medal, awarded to the highest British or Irish finisher in the British Open of 1976 at Royal Birkdale.

Jude O'Reilly: For a lot of players in Europe when I started caddying out here, the Masters was such a far-off thing. And such a rare thing to even get close to getting into. I caddied for Junior in 1990 and remember his face lighting up around Masters time when he talked about it. It was something special for him to be able to look back on it and relive it.

Britain's Peter Oosterhuis, who had 73 in the opening round, had a 75 for 148 and also qualified. Those on 150 or more were eliminated. Christy O'Connor junior was well down the list with a 79 to his first round of 78.

The Irish Times

Two years later, at precisely 1.26pm on April 12, 1979, a young Englishman called Nick Faldo made his debut at the Masters with a birdie at the first and an impressive front-nine. When he drove from the 14th, he was on the leaderboard. In The Rough with the Smooth - his first autobiography - he describes what happens next:

"On my card, I had it as being 140 yards to the middle of the green - an eight-iron shot for me. But my local caddie insisted it was 160 yards and that I needed a six iron. I was confused but, considering that this caddie had been working Augusta for 12 years, and this was my first visit, I decided to split the difference and take a seven.

"It air-mailed the green. The ball finished 10 yards behind the back of the putting surface. What can you say? So, unhappily, I accepted a bogey five and dropped another at the next where the caddie had another 'black-out' and handed me a five-wood and my approach finished in water. At the end I added the score up to 73. I felt disgusted. I had played well, but I was seven strokes off the pace."

Four years passed before Faldo returned to the Augusta in 1983. It was the first time players had been given the option of using their own caddie and Faldo's was a man who, two years previously, had been working the late shift at a cigarette factory in Carrickfergus. Now he was making history. Dave McNeilly would become the first Irishman to caddie at the Masters.

Dave McNeilly: I was amazed by the attention to detail and the way the golf course was prepared. I had never seen anything like it. There wasn't a weed on the whole golf course. And there were a lot of rules. We had to wear these boiler suits and share facilities with the local caddies who resented us being there taking their jobs. So the atmosphere was . . . well, I wouldn't exactly call it friendly. And the challenge was inexplicable - you walked in the gates and it was as if a mist suddenly settled over your eyes. In other tournaments you would step up, give the yardage, and step away again. But because of how severely you were penalised here for getting it wrong, you were double-checking everything. The secret to the golf course is that there is no bail-out but I didn't know that in '83. I was standing there thinking: 'Is this right? Is this wrong?' It was just impossible.

On April 6, as McNeilly was preparing for his first round at the Masters, Dermot Gilleece was driving home from Sligo after filing a report from the West of Ireland championship: Colin Glasgow experienced one of those marvellous days when a demanding game treated him like a favoured son as he beat Ulsterman Garth McGimpsey by 2 & 1 in the final to clinch the Ulster Bank-sponsored West of Ireland championship at Rosses Point yesterday.

Dermot Gilleece: That year, as every year, we found ourselves as Irish golf writers having the arse blown off us by Atlantic winds in Rosses Point. We'd say to each other: 'Do you know where we should be now? We should be in Augusta. That's really where it's happening.' But there was still no appetite for it here. Though it was being televised, the Masters still hadn't caught on. So it was more of a longing than a sensible appraisal of our function in life. When (Bernard) Langer won his first Masters in '85, I was in Albarella - an island off Venice in Italy. It was the European qualifying zone for the inaugural Dunhill Cup, and Des Smyth, Eamonn Darcy and (Ronan) Rafferty were representing Ireland. I came down to breakfast on the Monday morning and I said to the boys: "Guess who's after winning the Masters?" And Des Smyth said: "I'm going to surprise you - Bernhard Langer." And I said: "Bang! You're absolutely right." And we all sat down: "Jesus! Isn't that something. Langer is after winning the Masters!" And there I was in Italy, writing about qualifying for the Dunhill Cup. That's the way it ranked. It was something you talked about rather than experienced.

In 1986, Garth McGimpsey was invited to Augusta - a reward for his triumph in the 1985 British Amateur. The third Irishman to play at the Masters, he was one of only four players - Seve Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer and Sandy Lyle - from this side of the Atlantic in the field that year. Dave McNeilly was also present, but was now working for the Zimbabwean, Nick Price.

Price broke the course record (it had stood for 46 years) with a 63 on Saturday and went out in the final group on Sunday a shot behind the leader, Greg Norman. The chasing pack was pure stardust: Langer, Seve Ballesteros, Tom Watson, Tom Kite, Jack Nicklaus. It would be a Sunday to remember.

Dave McNeilly: That was probably the greatest Masters ever. All the big guns were there. It was going to be a shoot-out. It was one of the best experiences I have ever had on a golf course.

Dermot Gilleece: Where was I for one of the most memorable Masters of them all? Actually, I was at Goffs in Co Kildare, reporting on the Irish Masters snooker final between Willie Thorne and Jimmy White. Jesus!

Dave McNeilly: The thing I remember most when Nicklaus started doing his stuff is the noise. We were on 13 when he eagled 15 and I remember thinking: 'What on earth has happened here?' It was the biggest volume of noise I have ever experienced. We got to 15 and there was about 40 people on the left-hand side of the fairway, and about 10,000 people on the right-hand side of the fairway, watching Nicklaus on 17.

Garth McGimpsey: In a frame hanging on the wall of my home in Bangor are three precious items - a cheque from Jack Nicklaus, a simple, personal letter from him and a picture of the two of us preparing to drive off the third tee. All three were the result of a fourball I played with him in practice on the Tuesday of Masters week in 1986.

Dave McNeilly: Nicky was having a bad day with the putter but Norman was still going well. He birdied 14, 15 and 16 and then snap-hooked his tee-shot on 17, way down left. Then he hit this unbelievable second shot to about 15 feet and holed the putt. You should have seen the look in his eyes. They were on fire. It was unbelievable. And then we went to the 18th, and I'm not sure whether he was still thinking about his tee shot on 17 but he didn't appear to have a clear vision of what he wanted to do. Pete Bender, who was caddying for him, said: "It's a three-wood, leave yourself short of the trap." It was a fair enough play, and you can see the logic, but the drawback was that it left him hitting a four-iron into a very narrow green. And of course that was the one he blocked.

Garth McGimpsey: I played with the American amateur Peter Parsons against Jack and his amateur partner in what was termed a $1 nassau. Effectively, it worked out as a fourball match with $1 on the front nine, $1 on the back nine and $2 overall. Peter and me won all three bets. I was so thrilled to have played a round with Jack Nicklaus that the idea of being paid never occurred to me.

Dave McNeilly: It was a fantastic experience to be there and I will never forget the noise. It's one of the things that people don't realise about Augusta. You get these roars going all around the golf course and echoing around the trees. Roars that you never hear anywhere else. And it's terrible for the players. You can see why the rookies have a real problem with it. And that's why Nicklaus was so great around there.

Garth McGimpsey: Sam Randolph won the amateur award that year with an aggregate of 293 and on my return home I was really full of the whole thing, especially with Jack winning the title. As an amateur, it was a tremendous thrill to know that I had practised with the greatest player in the history of the game, five days before he won the last of his 18 professional Major titles. But there was more to come. On the Thursday of that week, a mere four days after he had shot that glorious back nine of 30 to win by one stroke from Tom Kite and Greg Norman, I got a letter from America. Inside was a note and a cheque for $4. The cheque was drawn on the joint account of Jack and Barbara Nicklaus and written on it was "for getting beat at Augusta National".

Dermot Gilleece: Let me guess: you're going to ask me where I was in '87? I've looked it up: How does Ravenhill sound? Ards against Bangor in the Ulster Senior Cup final.

Garth McGimpsey: At that time, the winner of the (British) Amateur was accorded the privilege of two successive Masters appearances. This meant that I was back at Augusta in 1987, when the most amazing thing happened on the Monday. As I was out on the course practising, Nicklaus happened to see me and immediately came over and recalled the game we had in practice the previous year. For a man who meets so many people from week to week, I was stunned he would remember me, though considering the way he thought of sending the cheque, I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised.

A year later, McGimpsey was back at Rosses Point when Sandy Lyle stormed Augusta. So was Gilleece. But in 1989, the golf writers - Gilleece (The Irish Times), John Redmond (Irish Press) and Colm Smith (Irish Independent) - were sent to cover the Masters for the first time. In 1990, they were joined by Charlie Mulqueen (The Examiner).

Dermot Gilleece: What changed? I've often wondered if it had to do with the Tallaght Strategy and the fact that the economy had turned at that stage. There was a growing awareness of us as a nation of committed Europeans and remember, this was the '80s of Seve winning the Irish Open three times, Langer winning the Irish Open three times and Faldo was a regular competitor. And we considered these guys very much our own. Anyway, for whatever reason, it was decided we should go.

3 The Marriage of Figaro

"Given Ireland's interest in promoting democracy in Central America, I hope that when you see general secretary Gorbachev at Shannon you will urge him to support diplomatic efforts to bring peace to the region by stopping the shipment of weapons to the region. Thank you for dropping by to see me on St Patrick's Day. I enjoyed your visit very much and look forward to other such pleasant occasions."

A letter from George Bush to

Charles Haughey, March 1989

On April 2, 1989, the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev stopped over at Shannon on his way to Cuba, for a meeting with then Taoiseach Charles Haughey. Dermot Gilleece was also in Shannon that afternoon.

Dermot Gilleece: I flew from Dublin and the plane - a Delta flight to Atlanta - stopped in Shannon for a couple of hours to take on passengers, only to be told that there was going to be a major delay because President Gorbachev was landing there for a meeting with Charlie Haughey. So it was late when I got to Augusta.

Paul McGinley: I'd had a number of offers to play there before 2002 but I had always politely refused: "No, I'll go to Augusta when I play the Masters." I didn't want to go there and watch. So it was a very big deal driving in there for the first time.

JP Fitzgerald: It was the Saturday or Sunday because there was nobody around. I had always dreamt of getting there as a player, that was always my ambition. So I was like Paul, I couldn't wait to see it.

Shane Lowry: The town is not the nicest place in the world, and Washington Avenue, but then you whip a right into Magnolia Lane and it's like you've just gone to heaven. It's hard to describe.

Dermot Byrne: It was a Sunday. Shane was driving and there were three of us in the car. I couldn't believe how small Magnolia Lane was. I expected it to be longer but before you know it, you reach the little roundabout and the clubhouse is there. I'm not a romantic but it was exciting . . . the hallowed ground of Augusta.

Jude O'Reilly: The first day we made a point of driving down Magnolia Lane. There were five of us in the car - Shigeki (Maruyama), his manager, a friend Bob Turner, and one of the Bridgestone staff. We drove slowly. Nobody said a word. Everything seemed so perfect.

Colin Byrne: I arrived before (Anders) Forsbrand (in 1993) and didn't get to see Magnolia Lane. I actually struggled to get in and had to show my passport. It was a Sunday morning and I went straight to the caddyshack where there was a sign above the door saying: "No weapons allowed on the property - guns, knives must be left outside." Four black caddies were playing cards in the corner, there was no door on the toilet, and there was chicken-wire behind where they served the food. So it was fairly raw. They gave me my painter-and-decorator suit for the week and I walked up to the clubhouse. The contrast was unbelievable. I'd seen well-groomed courses before but nothing like this, the greenness of it, the detail of the way everything was cut. It was unique, pristine, a heaven.

Dermot Gilleece: It's the overall impact of the place that has always stayed with me. I'm quite emotional about beauty. I'll cry looking at a movie if it moves my spirits. A scene in the Shawshank Redemption has always resonated with me - the Soprano duet from the Marriage of Figaro wafting over the exercise yard, and the extraordinary impact it had on the prisoners as the beauty of the music reached into their souls. That's what Augusta National did it me. It reached into my soul.

David Feherty: Like most people, I was shocked when I first saw the course. Television didn't prepare me for those dramatic changes of elevation and the wide-open spaces. I remember walking out there thinking, 'This is surreal, like a Dali picture.' I expected to see a clock hanging from a pine tree. So perfect.

Paul McGinley: I went straight into register in this little building adjoining the clubhouse; they give you a number based on when you arrive that's worn by your caddie for the week. The top line is reserved for the defending champion - he gets number 1 - so I signed on the second line and JP had the number 2 for the week, that's how early we were. He got his boiler suit and off we went to the driving range to hit a few balls. We were only 10 minutes. We couldn't wait to get to the golf course.

Dermot Gilleece: The first thing I did when I arrived there - and I did it every year subsequently - was to walk down the tenth fairway and on to Amen Corner.

Shane Lowry: I remember McGinley saying to me: "The first thing you're going to want to do is go down to Amen Corner." And that's what I did. I hit a few quick balls on the range and went straight to the 10th tee.

Padraig Harrington: I started on the front nine but couldn't wait to get to the back nine. I was probably thinking: 'I don't want to break the rules and go to the 10th.'

Paul McGinley: We didn't want to start on the first because the 10th was the course we knew from watching it on TV. We played 10 and played 11 and got to the 12th hole. JP had the yardage book and gave me the number and it was nothing. I felt like I could throw the ball to the green it was so short. I said: "JP, we're on the wrong tee here. There has to be another tee!" But we weren't. That was it. But it was everything I thought it would be; incredibly beautiful, aesthetically stunning.

Dermot Gilleece: I remember Padraig's first year. He was collected by a courtesy car and as the driver turned into Magnolia Lane, he turned to his wife Caroline and said: "Shhh. We're here." He wanted to absorb every detail of a place he had seen only on television.

Padraig Harrington: I told Caroline to shush! Are you sure? (laughs) I don't think so.

Caroline Harrington: You did.

Padraig Harrington: And I made it in there? (laughs)

Caroline Harrington: Yeah.

Padraig Harrington: There was obviously special dispensation given that day.

Caroline Harrington: You wanted to soak it all in.

Padraig Harrington: You have to understand . . . we had just flown in from (a tournament in) Brazil. It's Monday and I'm late. It's my first time in Augusta and I'm in a panic - I want to get to work. Then the car turns into Magnolia Drive and you go through the gate and everything changes: you go from this world of running around and madness to this place that's peaceful and serene. You go into the clubhouse and out to the terrace on the far side and I see it for the first time, the vast space of it, and I'm awestruck. The first person I meet is Paddy Murphy, the president of the GUI, and he's sitting with Sam Snead. So I'm confronted by all this and my senses are just going nuts. I want to practise and I want to be a spectator. And I have just been introduced to Sam Snead!

Rory McIlroy: Johnny Harris, who owns Quail Hallow, was the first guy I played Augusta with. We went up there a week before my debut in 2009 and played with a friend of his from Charlotte, Mike Malone, and (my coach) Michael Bannon. It was great to play it with Michael for the first time.

Graeme McDowell: I'd been there once as an amateur before I played in 2005. We'd been at an Augusta State College tournament and they gave us practice round tickets for the Monday in, I think, 2001. So that was my first time to see it. It's one of those places that always lived up to my expectation levels, and not many golf courses or experiences in golf do, but it's a special place.

Rory McIlroy: The happiest I've been on a golf course not playing in a tournament would have to be the first time I played Augusta with my father. It was March 2015, and we did a father-son trip for two days with two members and their sons. Thirty-six holes each day, and I remember the sun was going down on the first evening and we were walking up to the 18th green. My dad and I both were exhausted but probably would have gone for another 18 if we could have. It's such a special place, especially when it's not Masters week. So serene and peaceful. Sharing a moment and setting like that with my dad is something I'll remember for the rest of my life.

Padraig Harrington: There are a lot of people there during the week but you still get a sense of it being the most beautiful park in the world.

Ronan Flood: My first trip was as a spectator in 2002. I remember walking in with a bottle of Gatorade and the security guard took it off me and poured it into a Masters Cup: "Sir, there's no advertising at Augusta." I was amazed how hilly it was, and how different it was because of the rules. It exceeded my expectations.

Dermot Gilleece: The only thing I had ever experienced prior to Augusta that was better than I imagined was Niagara Falls. And Augusta National was the same.

Pádraig Harrington: It surpassed my expectations. It's very rarely in life that you have expectations for somewhere and it's actually better. Nobody can comprehend what Augusta is like . . . the beauty of it.

Dermot Gilleece: That was essentially it. The beauty was the first thing, and then of course it was a cruel beauty when you saw what it could inflict on people. These were the conflicting images in your head: 'This place can do dreadful things to people.'

To be continued . . .

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