Even though it was gray and raining and way too early in the morning for your average teen-aged boy, the 10 youngsters who stepped off the vans that had transported them from their downtown Augusta hotel to the home of the Masters were all smiles.
A Club member greeted them with a handshake and an enthusiastic “Welcome to Augusta National,” and the lads, who were competing in the Boys 14-15 division of the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals and were the first to arrive for this year’s competition, responded with big grins and hearty thank-yous.
Then, they started gazing around. At the pines towering over Founders Circle and the azaleas that had only recently begun to bloom. And at parts of the Par 3 course and the East Range, the greens of their grasses barely visible in the distance. The look in the players’ eyes said it all: they could not believe where they were.
There was no time for lingering in that spot, however, and the boys followed an official for the competition to the East Range, where three caddies in white jumpsuits stood behind a semi-circle of 10 stations that had been set up by a spacious green, a bag of golf balls by each one.
They spent the next 10 minutes hitting chip shots, their chaperones offering advice as well as the occasional towel to wipe off wet hands and club heads flecked with dirt and grass. Once that warm-up session was over, it was off to the West Range, a trek that took them across Magnolia Lane. Several of the boys, some of whom wore navy blue windshirts bearing the Drive, Chip and Putt logo, stopped to glance down that iconic way, at the Washington Road entrance to Augusta National to the north and the stately Clubhouse and the bed of yellow flowers in the shape of the United States before it to the south.
Then, they ambled onto the tee of the West Range and began booming their drives in preparation for the first two parts of the competition, the driving and the chipping, both of which take place at the Tournament Practice Area. By this time, many of the smiles had been replaced by more serious expressions as they adjusted to being on the grounds of Augusta National and started focusing on the championship that was about to start.
The Boys 14-15 was but the first of eight divisions coming to the Augusta National on Sunday, and soon after they made their way to the Tournament Practice Area, four vans carrying the Girls 7-9 pulled into Founders Circle. The girls were a much smaller bunch, to be sure, but just as cheerful.
Most had tied back their hair in ponytails, and several wore ribbons. One had a pink unicorn head cover for her driver, and another had clipped a Hello Kitty towel to her bag. A championship official handed out navy blue umbrellas as it continued to drizzle, and then the girls, like the boys before them, made their way to the East Range to work on their chipping.
Another Drive Chip and Putt was under way.