Augusta and the most prized dinner invitation in sports

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Augusta  National

The Tuesday during Masters week in Augusta features a special and private evening.  That is the night of The Champion’s Dinner started by Ben Hogan in 1952.

All the past champions come together as they are officially known as the “Master’s Club.”

A menu is selected by the defending champion – he also picks up the bill.  The selection reflects the personal taste of the champion, however chicken, steak and fish are always available.  When Scotland Sandy Lyle chose haggis in 1989, those standards came in handy.  Can you imagine a meal of heart, liver and lungs served in a sheep’s stomach?

A Louisiana golfer has yet to win The Masters but can you picture the reaction to a meal of boudin, alligator, fried soft shell crab po-boys and a few crawfish heads for sucking? Again, this is why there are options.

I can only imagine when golfing great Tom Kite, who won the U.S. Open but never the Masters, thinks of his teammate from the University of Texas, Ben Crenshaw (two time Master’s Champion) on this evening. There may be a little college envy.

The Champion’s Dinner is just one small part of what makes The Masters special.  It is truly about tradition.  I have had the priviledge of going four times, the first being in 1986. That memorable year was when Jack Nicklaus won his sixth green jacket at the age of 46.

I have a feeling of reverance when I walk on these hallowed grounds. It is like a pilgrimage for people who love golf and what it stands for all coming together.  You can feel the presence of the founder, Bobby Jones, who gave golf this gift in 1934.  His enduring love for the amateur golfer is as strong today as when the tournament started.

The amateurs in the field are invited to stay in the “Crow’s Nest,” the cupola of the main clubhouse.  How do you think that amateur feels when he knows Jack Nicklaus slept there and sees all the memorabilia and old books lining the wall and dreaming of putting on the green jacket as the winner?  This dream came true for U.S. Amateur Champions Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Craig Stadler, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods.  A tradition that says it all about the tournament is the current U.S. Amateur Champion playing the first two rounds with the defending Masters Champion.

I could go on-and-on about the many traditions.  The one I will truly enjoy is when Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus serve as honorary starters for the first time.  They will hit the ceremonial first shot at golf’s greatest tournament.

For the ones that are attending this year, I am proud for you.  For the ones who have been, you know what I am talking about but can’t adequately describe.  For the ones going for the first time, you will soon know what I mean.

Golf is what it is because of tradition. When you go to Augusta National, you will long to go back.

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