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Utahns bask in aura of Augusta

They’ve found it lives up to all the expectations

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Former BYU golfer Mike Weir of Draper takes notes during the first day of practice Monday for the Masters at the Augusta National Golf Club.

Former BYU golfer Mike Weir of Draper takes notes during the first day of practice Monday for the Masters at the Augusta National Golf Club.

David J. Phillip, Associated Press

Ever since he first went to the Masters in 1992, Jeff Waters has been hooked.

Waters has been a golf pro in Utah for the past 30 years and is now the owner of the Rocky Mountain Network that broadcasts on 25 stations, mostly around the Intermountain area (1320-AM locally).

Waters first went to Augusta on his PGA card (Class A professional golfers are allowed a ticket to the Masters), but has gone the last several years for his radio job. The trip to Augusta is one of the highlights of his year, and he looks forward to his 11th appearance.

"My standard line has always been this," he said. "No matter what you've heard about the Masters, how great and wonderful it is . . . it's better."

Waters can go on all day about the Masters, the tradition, the wonderful golf course, the hospitality. He has his favorite places to hang out (the bleachers between the 13th green and the 14th tee and up by the No. 6 tee) and basks in the history of the course and the tournament.

He is one of several Utahns who will be at this year's Masters. Most are golf pros, simply because it's impossible for the average fan to walk up and buy a ticket or order them in advance. The only people who have tickets, have had them in the family for years and most likely don't live around these parts.

Many who have never been there might picture Augusta as a quaint little town in the middle of the rolling hills of Georgia where large mansions are spread out over the countryside. They'd be surprised to learn that Augusta is like any other southern city, with large pockets of poverty-stricken row houses a few blocks from the golf course.

Augusta National Golf Course sits on the north side of town, just below Washington Road, which is a lot like 33rd South in Salt Lake — a long, wide road of fast-food outlets, gas stations and mini-malls, dotted by a few souvenir stands.

But once you turn off Washington onto Magnolia Lane, it's like going into a different world.

Suddenly there are tall pine trees sheltering the golf course, which is the most pristine in the world. A dazzling array of flowers is in bloom, and you couldn't find a weed if you tried.

The Masters tournament was begun in 1934, just three years after Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts first laid eyes on the property on which they built their famous golf course. Roberts was the chairman of the club and Jones the president for more than three decades.

British golf writer Peter Dobereiner once wrote about Roberts' "simple creed" about Augusta, which was "everything about Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters had to be the best, and if it was not the best then it would have to be improved every year."

Willow Creek head professional Eric Nielsen will be making his third trip to Augusta this week, with his assistant pro, Justin Moore, and Eagle Mountain pro Jared Barnes, and he says every trip gets better. Nielsen said he wasn't disappointed when he first saw Augusta after seeing it on TV for many years.

"All my life I wanted to see Augusta, but sometimes when you build something up in your mind so much, it's kind of a letdown once you get there," he said. "But it wasn't a letdown. It more than lived up to my expectations."

Glendale head pro Dave Carter made his first visit to the Masters last year after wisely booking a hotel room a year in advance in Augusta, just two miles from the course. He booked a rate of $65. However, when he showed up, the hotel, like many in the area that jack their prices up on Masters week, tried to switch his rate to $299 per night. Luckily, Carter had a copy of his reservation and was able to save about $1,000 for the week.

Carter and Greg Cayais, an assistant pro at Nibley Park, were especially thrilled to be able to see Draper's Mike Weir don the green jacket after winning in a playoff over Len Mattiace. They remember racing over from No. 18 to the No. 10 green for the playoff where Weir clinched his victory.

They bought a couple of Masters' flags and had Weir sign them at last month's Utah Hall of Fame banquet. Like everyone else who has been to Augusta and the Masters, they only wish they could go back again this year.

E-mail: sor@desnews.com