Postcard from Augusta

Matt Trowbridge

You can drive into Rae’s Creek without ever setting foot on Augusta National.

Golf’s most famous water hazard winds off the course and through the grass parking lot across the street. It looks nothing like the beautifully manicured stream TV zooms in on during the Masters, but it’s Rae’s Creek all the same.

That’s one of many surprises you stumble upon at Augusta National. The first surprise is the early morning fragrance, especially after a rain. The wet pine straw smells faintly like a barnyard. That goes away, though, as soon as the fans start arriving. From then on, it’s cigars that you smell.

One of the best Augusta National touches is a miniature stone castle, complete with iron spikes on the top, dedicated to Jack Nicklaus. Located along the No. 17 fairway, it bears a bronze plaque describing each of Nicklaus’ record six Masters titles. And it’s functional, with four water fountains attached.

The trees also make Augusta National special, starting with the pines, which help the Masters feature more dramatic recovery shots than any other major. “Because the pines don’t have any lower limbs, you can make a lot of shots out of the woods,” said Rock Valley College golf coach Steve Benjamin.

A massive 200-year-old oak tree outside the clubhouse not far from the 1st tee and 9th and 18th greens also makes a notable landmark. It’s where people often agree to meet on a course where no cell phones are allowed. The tree looks like a giant octopus, with eight limbs that hang low to the ground on all four sides. “Those limbs are bigger than the trunks on a lot of trees,” Benjamin said.