The Sure Sign of Spring

John J. Hopkins Apr. 9, 2011, 6:34am


There is a dichotomy amongst golfers, as to which is the best golf movie of all time - the personal selection revealing much about the character involved.

On one hand, purests tout "Tin Cup," the tale of the driving range pro's quest for the U.S. Open title as the one and only decent golf movie. The Hackers on the other hand, including yours truly, feel that nothing compares to "Caddy Shack," with the most well known and oft quoted dialogue - "Be the ball, Danny"; "Wang, it's a parking lot"; "Big hitter the llama"; "Hey, Llama, how's about a little something for the effort"; - of any male endorsed film.

Choose wisely.

Terrance James O'Dooley was besides himself. His golf game, only modestly successful at best, had taken an unwelcome turn for the worst. His driving was erratic to be kind; terrible to be accurate. Turning for advice to Danny, his grizzled old caddy, he asked for the cure. Danny offered. "It that's piece of crud on the end of your driver. "Dutifully warned, he drew a towel from his bag and cleaned the head of his oversized driver. Unimpressed, Danny replied ... "I meant the other end."

For some, the first sure sign of Spring is Cardinal Opening Day, with its unrivaled ceremony and tradition; for others, the spotting of the first robin heralds the changing of the seasons; still others, it's the unmistakable smell of a freshly mowed lawn. While all are good and appropriate markers, challenging the senses and the memory, for me, the best and surest sign that winter is behind us occurs in a far off magic kingdom, where the air is blessed with the smell of pines and dogwoods, where every year at the same time, at the same place, the world's best gather in search of golf's Holy Grail - the Green jacket, symbol of victory at the Master's.

"A tradition like no other"...For years, this has been the tag line for the CBS sports coverage of the Master's Tournament, held every year on the majestic and hallowed grounds known as the Augusta National Golf Club.

For once, the hype matches reality. For once, understatement may actually be the proper advertising copy. Unlike the other three majors in golf - the U.S. Open, the British Open and the PGA, the Masters never varies. While others shift in location from year to year like a traveling feast, since its creation in 1934 by legendary golfer Bobby Jones, the one and only host of this invitation only event has been the sport's shrine in the Georgia pines.

The members of the club are a conservative and tradition bound group, to say the very least, yet the club endures. In a sport entrenched with rules and customs, the members hold tight to the notion of propriety above all else, reinforcing the ofttimes overlooked admonition that golf is and should always be a game for gentlemen. This concept is carried forth in such ways as the limited number of commercials, the pristine condition of the course at all times, and of course, the limited number of gallery tickets. The Masters may just be the hardest ticket in sports, and it is only a privilege, revokable at any time by the Club, never the true property of the temporary possessor.

In my life, I have been fortunate to have been offered the chance to attend the Master's, but for several reasons - some personal and others philosophical - I have declined. By its nature, golf is a poor spectator sport, requiring decorum from the crowds, especially at Augusta, where the price of a perceived breach of etiquette is expulsion. As such, to just watch is of little attraction.

Someday, I would like to walk the course - not play, just walk - without the crowds, without players, just the beauty of God and Man's creation in perfect harmony. Another item for the Bucket List. I shall for now be satisfied with yearly trip to Olympia Fields, site of the 2003 U.S. Open, courtesy of Record publisher Timpone. At this place, the weekend hacker plays the same course as legendary pros, the golfing equivalent of the Church league softballer playing in Yankee Stadium.

While it signals the start of Spring, the Masters also unofficially begins the golf season. It is impossible to resist the call of fairways and greens when as you watch golf's best challenge its most famous course. Whether your passion is the friendly confines of Far Oaks, the deceptive Stonewolf or the always interesting Belk Park, the area has abundant venues to appease the golfer of all skill levels.

For my choice, the best area course remains the history laden links of Lock Haven, now approachable for member and non-member alike. If you need proof of the deity, come to the golf course on a bright spring morning, and watch your perfectly struck 5 iron shot land softly on the green, three feet from the cup. It is enough to convert even the most devout atheist.

In 2004, my two sons and I began what is now a yearly golf outing with a journey to Ireland, the home of true links style golf. Playing on the sacred grounds of Ballybunion, the rustic Gaelic charm of Carne, or my personal favorite Lahinch, we truly had the trip of a lifetime. As is now, carts were not allowed. As a part of the experience, you played with a local caddy. I remember Liam at Ballybunion, and as we approached the 7th hole, off in the distance was a medieval castle, to the left the crashing sea. I asked my trusted companion for a tip. With the soul of brevity, he replied - "Aim for the castle, lad. Try and keep it out of the sea." Good and useful advice.

Sunday is the grand day in golf, the day in which the Green jacket is awarded, a good day to stay home in front of the TV. Until then, keep your head down and hit it straight. See you on the golf course.

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