Willow at the 2013 US Masters

Adam Scott after holing his birdie putt on the 72nd hole

Adam Scott after holing his birdie putt on the 72nd hole

“Usually when something has such a hype and aura of expectation surrounding it, you nearly always feel a little disappointed when you experience it. The Masters is the total opposite… It not only fulfills that but greatly surpasses it. It’s not just the perfectly presented course but the attention to detail and the experience that is created. This all from simply attending the practice day and par 3 tournament. The experience is supposed to only get better with the added acoustics of the crowds roar coming from the other side of the course. There we go again with expectation but I have no doubt it will be surpassed again. I am quite simply in heaven!”

This was my first post after getting back from my first experience at The Masters and here is a day by day summary of our entire trip. Now this is a long blog post with plenty of my experiences of my trip as well as a lot of photos and galleries.  Sorry if it all takes a while to load but I wanted to keep it all together instead of separate posts.  I certainly hope you enjoy reading about my Number 1 bucket list item trip…

The Beginning

A student of mine, Jason Hirjee and I left early one Saturday morning to embark on the trip of a lifetime.  We arrived at Tullamarine Airport early to check in and it wasn’t long before I bumped into someone else on their way to the Masters, however it wasn’t his first time there.

Willow & Steve Bann at Tullamarine

Willow & Steve Bann at Tullamarine

After our 13 hour flight to Los Angeles it was on to Dallas, Texas for a couple of days before we set off for a week at the US Masters. We met up with our hosts for the trip, the Chasing Birdies team of David Wren and Mark Allen in Dallas. Both PGA Professionals in Melbourne they have been conducting Golf Tours for the past 8 years and do a fantastic job.  We spent a couple of days in Dallas, staying at the Four Seasons Las Colinas and played at the exclusive Dallas National Golf Club which is hoping to one day host the Presidents Cup.  There are some fantastic holes which contain some decent carry’s over the creek that runs through the course.  Happy to say I shot even par 72 around here with a few birdies included.

 

We also attended the Texas Rangers Major League Baseball game. It was fantastic and the Americans certainly do know how to do sport.  There is never a dull moment with something always happening between innings. Kiss Cam, mascot races, giveaways they always keep the fans entertained.

Texas Rangers Baseball

Texas Rangers Major League Baseball

Masters Week Begins

MONDAY

We flew into Colombia, South Carolina on the Monday before the Masters ready for a huge week, however, I was yet to realize how huge it would be.  Our team of drivers picked us up from the airport and transported us to our hotel for the week.  We were greeted with Happy Hour and plenty of cookies.

One of the questions I get asked about it where we stay during Masters Week.  The Chasing Birdies Team organize a hotel in Aiken, South Carolina around 25 miles from Augusta National.  The hotel is comfortable and the staff go out of their way to ensure you enjoy your stay.  The accommodation is slightly less expensive than staying closer to Augusta but the real benefits come when looking for a place to have dinner and a drink of an evening.  We walked into every bar or restaurant with no hassles after calling 5 minutes prior to check if there was room.  The drivers also have a stocked esky in each van with beer or water for the trip.  The town of Aiken is a great little country town and you get a real feel of Southern US living.

PGA Tour Shop @ Columbia Airport

PGA Tour Shop @ Columbia Airport

TUESDAY

Tuesday was a rest or golf day.  Most of the guys were keen to get out for a game so off they went to Aiken Golf Club for a game. I chose a rest day and went shopping to get all the stuff I needed to payback my wife and kids for disappearing for two weeks.  There are plenty of bargains to be had in the local Aiken Shopping Malls.  I managed to find 4 pairs of Levi 501 Jeans for the price of 1 pair back in Australia.  Tuesday night we attended a Masters Week Cocktail Party at the West Lake Country Club in Augusta, Georgia.  In attendance were Frank Christian and Al “Mr.59″ Geiberger who told some great stories about The Masters. Our very own Craig Spence relived his infamous shot on the 72nd hole of the 1999 Australian Masters in which he birdies the final hole and defeated Greg Norman by 1 shot. It was a great start to the Masters week and certainly got the blood pumping for what was in store.

Cocktail Party Memorabilia

Cocktail Party Memorabilia

Signed book by Frank Christian & Al Geiberger (Mr.59)

Signed book by Frank Christian & Al Geiberger (Mr.59)

Al Geiberger's Business Card

Al Geiberger’s Business Card

WEDNESDAY – PRACTICE DAY & PAR 3 CONTEST

The day had finally arrived after a very restless night sleep. Thinking about all the years I had spent in front of the TV for 4 mornings straight watching Jack Nicklaus win in ’86 or my childhood hero Norman being defeated in 1986 when he bogeyed the last hole, 1987 when Larry Mize chipped in on the second playoff hole and 1996 when after shooting a course record 63 in the first round, held a 6 shot advantage over Nick Faldo who went on to win after Greg Norman’s last round of 78. No matter which year it was, the Masters never failed to live up to the hype on TV with something always happening to get the blood pumping.

Security at the Entrance

Security at the Entrance to the Masters

We set off from the hotel at 7am to be there in time for the gates to open for the practice round and Par 3 Tournament. Security to get in was akin to airport security with scanners, metal detectors, bag checks and ticket scanning.  The rules are very strict at Augusta, break the rules and you not only get kicked out, but the badge holder loses their badge for life. There is absolutely no running allowed, patrons can place their chair anywhere around the course and then leave it without fear of it being touched or moved and there are no mobile phones allowed. We selected our spot on the 8th hole of the Par 3 course at 9am and then went straight to the merchandise building. You could quite easily walk in and purchase one of everything here. It is like being a kid in a candy shop.  Ensuring I had a few special items to remember my trip by, we headed out to the course.

The Practice Fairway is the first greeting to Augusta National

The Practice Fairway is the first greeting to Augusta National

The Course

The lure of the iconic Augusta holes on the back nine was too strong and we headed straight to the 10th. Everyone I had spoken to prior who had been mentions the first thing you notice is the rapid change in elevation from the 10th tee to the 11th green. It has to be one of the best pieces of land for a golf course that I have seen. The whole property is so perfectly manicured and presented as well… Even the restrooms had attendants cleaning constantly and directing traffic.

10th Hole

10th Hole

We arrived at the scene where in 1987, Norman had his heart broken by an amazing chip on the second playoff hole. I remembered exactly how I felt that Monday morning and relived the emotions. So here I was at Amen corner Looking at Ben Hogan Bridge that crossed Rae’s creek.  I had to stop and take it all in for a minute, as it still hasn’t sunk in that I was at the golfing Mecca, the place at the top of every golfer’s bucket list.

12th Hole

12th Hole

We headed off down the 13th hole, the par 5 dogleg guarded along the left side of the fairway and in front of the green by an intimidating creek. Upon reaching the green I again found myself pausing for a minute in disbelief at where I was. We continued on up the 14th and down to the Par 5 15th green, the scene of some pivotal Masters moments. Eisenhower’s lake in front of the green and the stands surrounding the green certainly set the stage.

15th Hole

15th Hole

Now, the one I had been waiting for… The 16th hole and it certainly did not disappoint. The scene of Adam Scott’s hole in one in 2012 and Tiger Woods’ Nike chip in, was prettier and more dramatic in person than I had ever imagined.. I stood behind the green and watched a few groups come through… Again I would stop, look around and say to myself “I’m actually here”.

16th Hole

16th Hole

We stayed on the 16th for some time and watched a few groups come through… after the professionals hit their tee shots the crowd jeered them to skim shots across the pond and onto the green.

On to 17 and 18 now. Both steeply uphill par 4’s the 17th dead straight and the 18th a dogleg right. They are both very tight off the tee and the fairway bunkers on the 18th    look bigger than than on TV. We then arrived at the scene of so many iconic Masters moments, the 18th green. Who can forget Jack Nicklaus’ putt in 1986 or Phil Mickelson in 2004 making birdie win his first green jacket. The uphill approach and the slope at the front of the green is quite dramatic, something you cannot fully appreciate on the television.

18th Hole

18th Hole

That is one of the first thing that you notice about being at the Masters,  the land on which the course is situated.  The expanse of ground and amount of elevation change is something everyone talks about.  The acoustics of the course is quite amazing as well… Any crowd roars with origins from the far corners of the course resonate up the valley towards the clubhouse and add to the amazing atmosphere that you experience.

We headed to one of the many concession stands for a bite to eat for lunch.  We were amazed by what we were greeted.  A long line that didn’t stop moving until we found ourselves paying for our lunch and out of there before we knew it.  Then also getting a heap of change out of $10 with the prices remarkably low.

Masters Concession Stand Prices

Masters Concession Stand Prices

 

Par 3 Contest

We took our lunch, found our chairs on the 8th hole of the par 3 course and settled in for the afternoon.  It was a picture perfect setting overlooking the lake and the 8th and 9th holes.  The Par 3 Contest turned out to be one of the highlights of the Masters for me.  Such a beautiful setting, the professionals were relaxed and out with their families and it is something that, only until very recently, was not seen on TV. We spent the afternoon just taking it all in, getting a few signatures and enjoying getting up close and chatting with some of the legends of the game.

 

I honestly don’t know where that 11 hours went on the Wednesday of the Masters.  There is one thing that is a definite, it didn’t seem long enough.  Most avid golfers dream of being at The Masters, as I had done my whole life.  I can honestly say I was in awe, gobsmacked and amazed by how good it was actually being there.  If there is a heaven on earth for golfers to be at without actually swinging a club then Augusta National during Masters week has to be it. We left at very late in the day and headed back to our meeting point to be driven back to the hotel.

THURSDAY – The Reserve Club

We were still on a high from being at Augusta on the Wednesday when we woke and readied ourselves for a taste of golf, South Carolina style.  We were guests of The Reserve Club at Woodside Plantation in Aiken, SC.  This place was very exclusive, even bumping into a resident of 5 years mentioning he hadn’t been able to get a game on The Reserve Club.  There were some stunning holes here and none better than their signature hole the 3rd.  A 190 metre downhill par 3 with the green guarded by water on the left and behind.

The 3rd Hole at The Reserve Club, South Carolina

Willow playing the 3rd Hole at The Reserve Club, South Carolina

 

FRIDAY – Palmetto Golf Club

Built in 1892, Palmetto Golf Club is known as the 2nd oldest course in America.  It was redesigned in 1932 by Dr Alistair McKenzie and still retains it’s historic feel.  The clubhouse and surrounds haven’t been modernized beyond recognition and the course retains its early design.

Tree next to clubhouse

Tree next to clubhouse

The Clubhouse

The Clubhouse

The course is fantastic and truly enjoyable to play.  They hadn’t over sown the fairways this year so it the grass was still a little dormant after winter but the surface itself was faultless.

7th Hole - Ranked Top 100 Toughest Holes in America

7th Hole – Ranked Top 100 Toughest Holes in America

Palmetto Golf Club is the place where all the professionals play when in town for The Masters.  Probably not quite so much as before but the course has had is fair share of rave reviews by some very famous golfers.  Read some of the history of the club HERE

Here is a video of PGA Professional David Wren playing a great chip at Palmetto Golf Club

 

SATURDAY – ROUND 3 MASTERS

Again I had another restless night sleep before heading out to the Masters once again.  The Aussies were well in contention for the first ever victory by an Australian.  Jason and I left the hotel at 7am again to get there in time for the gates to open at 8am so we could get a good vantage point for our chairs.  We headed straight to the 12th tee at Amen Corner and were 2nd row from the front right next to the tee.  We also had a great view of the 11th green from where we were.

12th Hole with Ben Hogans Bridge

12th Hole with Ben Hogans Bridge

We decided to walk the front 9 of Augusta on Saturday morning to see more of what we don’t get to see much on television.  There are some great holes on the front 9 but they lack the some of the beauty of the holes on the back nine.  We headed back to our chairs after lunch and after watching the 10 – 12 groups come through that hole. No real dramatic events took place on the 11th or 12th on Saturday afternoon but what a day and location it was.  Staring at a 3D oil painting all day in golf heaven.

Once the last group came through the 12th we followed Jason Day and Fred Couples for the last 6 holes.  Jason Day was playing rock solid in the lead.  12 straight pars to start the day and then two great shots onto the Par 5 13th saw him make his first birdie for the day.  He unfortunately 3 putted the last 2 holes but was still right in contention.  With three Aussies in the top 5 going into Masters Sunday, I was very excited by what may be in store the next day.

It was another long day at Augusta but time flew too quickly.  It was probably the adrenaline pumping through me that made it seem so short even after walking the full 18 holes.  I simply couldn’t wait to get back here on the Sunday for the final round…

SUNDAY – ROUND 4 MASTERS

Again, I didn’t get much sleep during the night.  Getting used to the different time zone, different pillow and bed, getting up early for my video call home to the wife and kids and the expectation of the final round of The Masters meant I was getting little sleep but I didn’t notice it during the day.

We met in the dining room at 6:30am for breakfast and Jason was sick… Unfortunately he wasn’t very well at all, but he was determined to make the most of the experience, flu or not.

The vans departed once again at 7am and we got to the front gates at 7:45am but this time there were hundreds of people waiting to get in.  The gates opened at 8:00am and the crowds waited patiently to clear customs (read: security) and once we were through we headed straight to the 18th green to find a half decent spot.  With a few hundred people already beating us through the gates we got a decent vantage point overlooking the green from the rise just short right of the green and 4 rows from the front.

Once we had our chairs in position, we exited Augusta National and headed to get some breakfast but had to make a detour on the way.  John Daly had set up his bus selling merchandise at the nearby Hooters.  No we didn’t call in for some Buffalo Wings and girls in skimpy outfits, I wanted to see if he had any Australian Flag Loudmouth Pants or Shorts left to wear to the final round to support Scott, Day and Leishman.  I purchased a Loudmouth Putter Cover and JD graciously stopped what he was doing and came over to sign it.  We got talking with JD and his girlfriend Anna about Australia and they mentioned how much they loved it here.  We all know JD’s history here in Australia but was keen to come out here again.  They both gave up a fair bit of time to chat with us.  I didn’t have a camera or phone with me to get a picture, so Anna offered to take a picture on her phone and email it to me.  I was amazed that she and JD were so accommodating.

Willow and John Daly

Willow and John Daly

I have only ever heard great things from people when they have met or spent time with JD and I can see why..

We headed to iHop just up the road for breakfast with the rest of the group and found out a very interesting piece of information.  All the businesses across the Washington Road from Augusta National had been purchased by the Golf Club to use for car parking during the Masters.

Purchased Land for Masters Car Parking

Purchased Land for Masters Car Parking

This land contains: shopping malls, businesses, accomodation, churches, homes, the list goes on but the golf club have purchased ALL of the land to use for car parking.  Can you imagine how much money they have to be able to get all the businesses and residents to agree to sell to be able to simply turn it all into a car park?  The newly constructed practice fairway area (just above the Augusta National Golf Club pointer in the map) consisted of homes up until 3 years ago.  They purchased all the homes from the owners to build a practice facility.  It’s hard to fathom how much money and influence they have in the local area but they certainly do things on a grand scale.

After breakfast we headed back into the Masters.  We purchased some last minute items from the Merchandise Shop and headed back to our seat.  Jason wasn’t feeling to good so sat at our chairs next to the 18th green and watched as Tianlang Guan, the 14 year old golfing sensation from China played his final hole of the 2013 Masters.  This kid is not only good but unbelievable.  He doesn’t hit it far at all yet, hitting a hybrid into the 18th hole on the final day to the back edge of the green.  He rolled his putt down to 4 feet and holed it for a par.  He is the youngest person ever to tee it up at the Masters and, also to make the cut let’s not forget, he also had the lowest number of putts in the field for the week tied with Rickie Fowler.

W caught up with Jason Day on the 3rd hole, just missing his eagle at the 2nd to put him in the lead.  My adrenaline was now pumping… Would I attend my first Masters when the first Aussie wins it kept going through my mind.  Since all three Aussies where in consecutive groups I followed both groups for the entire front nine.  They were all playing very steady but with Angel Cabrera 2 shots in front of Snedeker and Jason Day after 8 holes and Adam Scott a further shot back, I was getting worried.

As the Aussies went through the turn I decided I would get back to my chair on the 18th and watch the remainder of the field come in.  At this time it was about 3pm, and Jason’s decision to leave for the hotel turned out to be the best one as it started to rain.  The rain was heavy at times and never stopped and it had also dropped in temperature quite considerably. As the rain started so did the exhaust fans… Let me explain. There were big grates about 40 metres from each green and well out of the way.  Each green at Augusta National has fans underneath the green to circulate warm air.  This kept the greens rolling fast and true even after hours of rain.  Quite amazing and you begin to think of the lengths the club goes to for this one week of the year.

So here we all were sitting in the rain, watching the last groups come in and following the leaders progress on the big scoreboard that overlooks the 18th green.  It was apparent who the majority of the crowd were following as a roar from the crowd went up as Adam Scott made his birdies on the back nine.

It’s about then that I got a tap on the shoulder by Chasing Birdies Tour Operator, David Wren, asking if I’d like to go into the clubhouse.  I thought I’d miss-heard him at first… the clubhouse was reserved for members, their guests and the players.  He gave me a members badge to borrow for 15 minutes to wander through the Augusta National Clubhouse and Pro Shop.  I sheepishly showed the badge to the security guard, expecting to be grabbed and escorted out, but he simply smiled and let me pass. I headed into the clubhouse and upstairs to the main bar area and was greeted by history.  There are cabinets around the room with pieces of Masters history in as well as the Masters Trophy holding centre stage in the room.  I laid my eyes on Gene Sarazen’s club that he hit “The shot heard around the world” for Albatross on the 15th hole of the 1935 Masters among other Masters history.  I took it all in for a few minutes and then headed out onto the upper verandah to look out onto the people below me (I was really allowing them to see me in the clubhouse). Then I headed downstairs and into the pro shop where they have select items available only to the members, guests and players and no where else.  I purchased a souvenir for myself and headed back to the 18th green.  The cap below was only available from the Augusta National Pro Shop and not sold to the Patrons attending the Masters.

retro Masters Cap purchased from the Augusta National Pro Shop

Retro Masters Cap purchased from the Augusta National Pro Shop

So here we were at the business end of the Masters.  Adam Scott coming up the last with fellow Aussie, Marc Leishman.  Both got a great reception as they walked onto the final green.  Adam Scott was sitting on the right half of the green with the pin cut on the left front portion.  His putt would break across the hill a bit.  The crowd went amazingly silent until he hit his putt with the volume slowly rising as his ball got nearer to the hole.  Then it happened, the roof was lifted of the Masters at the 18th green.  I have never experienced anything quite like the roar that I was a part of when that birdie putt dropped.  Maybe it was because I was there and a part of it, the adrenaline pumping, voice quickly disappearing but it was a moment in time I won’t quickly forget.  Adam Scott holing the putt to win the 2013 Masters on the 18th green for birdie and I was there, or was it?

Scott Holes His Putt For Birdie on the 72nd Hole

Scott Holes His Putt For Birdie on the 72nd Hole

Adam’s putt for birdie on the 72nd hole put him into the lead with only one group to play the final hole.  Angel Cabrera was in the middle of the 18th fairway and was now 1 shot behind Scotty.  He was the only person in the world who could stop a nation celebrating their first win at the Masters.

Under immense pressure, Australian Enemy No.1 Cabrera, lined up his second shot and hit what could be undeniably, one of the best shots of his life to within 2 feet of the pin.  The crowd cheered loudly, as some Aussie hearts in the crowd sunk, but the anticipation now of a playoff grew.  Cabrera sunk his birdie putt to put this game into overtime.

Angel Cabrera Hugs Caddy After 72nd Hole Birdie

Angel Cabrera Hugs Caddy After 72nd Hole Birdie

Onto the playoff… Playing the 18th hole again, both players found the fairway with their drives and both played landed on the front of the green and rolled back down the hill to 5 metres off the front edge.  Cabrera chipped first and was very nearly one of the most hated men in Australia, as the chip ran over the edge of the hole and to a foot.  Scott was next to chip and left his ball around 4 feet short of the hole.  He holed his putt and they moved to the 10th tee for their second playoff hole.

Both players his great tee shots down the middle of the fairway… Cabrera hit his shot onto the green about 25 feet from the pin and Scott followed by putting his ball to about 15 feet.  It was getting quite dark now and a question popped into my head, “Can they play a 3rd hole in this darkness?”

The crowd was 10 deep down the entire 10th hole watching as Cabrera was first to putt.  Taking his time he stroked the putter and his ball was rolling at the perfect holing speed and hanging just above the line, breathtakingly rolling around the hole and stopping an inch past.  So close to winning on the 1st playoff hole and now again on the 2nd hole.

Oh so close on the 2nd playoff hole

Oh so close on the 2nd playoff hole

Scott then took his time to line up the putt, which must have been quite difficult in the fading light. Again the crowd was deathly silent until he hit his putt and then the volume grew as the ball approached the hole.  In a replay of 30 minutes before, the roof once again was lifted off Augusta but even louder this time as Scotty’s ball went in.  His reaction was priceless.

Scott celebrates holing his putt to win

Scott celebrates holing his putt to win

In a display of great sportsmanship, after suffering an agonizingly close defeat, Angel Cabrera congratulates Adam Scott on his victory.

Angel Cabrera congratulates Adam Scott

Angel Cabrera congratulates Adam Scott

I’ve since had it confirmed by Adam Scott’s media team that had his putt not gone in on the 2nd playoff hole, the 3rd playoff hole would’ve been played on Monday morning.  Thankfully his putt did go in and he was crowned the 2013 US Masters Champion and Australia’s first winner of the prestigious tournament.

We waited around the practice putting green in front of the clubhouse to see if Adam would come out to see his fans.  We weren’t disappointed.

The new champion meets his fans

The new champion meets his fans

Even though I was soaking wet, shivering cold and had lost my voice, I had just witnessed the first Australian to win the US Masters.  I sadly made my way out of the Masters gates for the last time and headed to our meeting point, the Chasing Birdies Masters HQ… The whole tour group was there and already into the beers and champagne. We stood around cold, wet and shivering savoring the moment together just outside Augusta National before heading back to the hotel to have a warm shower, get changed and head out to celebrate some more…

Here is the 72nd hole and playoff from the 2013 US Masters.

MONDAY – TRAVELLING TO PEBBLE BEACH

We woke up on Monday morning and packed our bags.  We bid farewell to our team of drivers, Dave, Soupy and the gang were fantastic… They certainly looked after us ensuring we had what we needed, took us to wherever we needed and made sure we had a cold one in our hands on the way home from the golf each day.

It was off to the Columbia Airport to make our way to Pebble Beach with an stop to experience an NBA game on the way.  We had a fair bit of traveling in front of us with stops in Charlotte and Phoenix before landing at Oakland, California.  Jason had purchased tickets to see the Golden State Warriors v San Antonio Spurs played in Oakland.

We were met by our driver at the airport and rushed to the NBA game about 20 minutes away.  We made it just in time to see the teams being announced.

Willow Pre Game

Willow Pre Game

Warriors v Spurs Pre Game

Warriors v Spurs Pre Game

Jason did a great job with the tickets.  2nd row and right behind the Spurs bench…  Now this was THE way to experience my first NBA game.

San Antonio Spurs

San Antonio Spurs

Now… having travelled all day, we had worked up quite an appetite.  I demolished a sensational Chicken Caesar Salad delivered right to our seat.  We thought we’d then have a dessert and ordered an ice cream sandwich each.  Now I had imagined something like a Maxibon ice cream bar..

A Maxibon Bar

A Maxibon Bar

But what turned up wasn’t quite what I was expecting…  Two dinner size plate choc chip cookies on either side of a 4 litre tub of vanilla icecream and if that wasn’t enough they put whipped cream and a cherry on top.  I suppose it is America and they don’t do things by halves but this was ridiculous.

Ice Cream Sandwich USA Style

Ice Cream Sandwich USA Style

We had a fantastic night, Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors lit up the floor and provided some classic NBA moves.  (Jason and I are in this clip. I’m holding my camera in the 2nd row when he makes the shot in the beginning of the clip… Look for the guy in the yellow shirt… I’m 2 in front of him)

At the end of the game we met up with our driver and commenced our 2 hour drive to Pebble Beach.  We finally arrived at Pebble Beach at 1am and were booked into The Lodge.

I was greeted by a sensational room which even had its own fireplace

The Lodge at Pebble Beach

The Lodge at Pebble Beach

I didn’t have any clue exactly where I was situated at the resort…  I opened up the large curtains and opened the back door to the room.  On my right, I could hear the sea very close with the sound of the seals not too far away.  To my left, all I could see was the Pebble Beach Clubhouse…  Everything else was pitch black but I was thinking I was going to wake up to something special in the morning.

Pebble Beach Clubhouse at Night

Pebble Beach Clubhouse at Night

TUESDAY – SPYGLASS HILL

I woke up feeling unwell after only getting a couple of hours sleep. I think the last 10 days of not getting much sleep and amount of travel was catching up with me but I wasn’t going to let it deter me from enjoying my trip.  I could see the sun was up and opened the curtains.  I wasn’t wrong when I had my feeling before I went to bed of being witness to something special.  My room was located right next to Carmel Bay overlooking the 18th green of Pebble Beach and the clubhouse. WOW!!

18th Green next to Carmel Bay

18th Green next to Carmel Bay

I got dressed and headed to the clubhouse to meet the rest of our group for breakfast…  It just kept getting better.  For a golfer there aren’t too many better views to enjoy while you are eating your breakfast.

A Golfers Breakfast Heaven

A Golfers Breakfast Heaven

After breakfast, I went for a stroll through the clubhouse and wandered through one of the many hallways.  The trophy walk was amazing…

We walked outside the clubhouse and waited for the shuttle bus to take us to Spyglass Hill just up the road.  There is a row of shops located across from the clubhouse which is called ‘The Market’. This is the Pebble Beach Merchandise row… Apart from the Pebble Beach Pro Shop next to the first tee, there is also a Mens Clothing Store, Signature Mens Clothing Store, Womens Clothing Store, Kids Clothing Store, Picture Frame Store, Golf Collectables Store & Real Estate Store all with Pebble Beach items for sale.

Pebble-Beach-Clubhouse-and-Lodge-02

The Market at Pebble Beach Golf Links

The doormen at Pebble Beach were certainly dressed the part and helped create the historic atmosphere of the resort which was built in 1919.

Pebble Beach Doorman

Pebble Beach Doorman

We arrived at the Spyglass Hill Golf Course and did the customary shopping stop in the pro shop, but I couldn’t wait to get out onto the course.  (Their website is also worth a browse containing some amazing photographs and information about the course.)

The first tee shot from the back tees is a little daunting to say the least.  A narrow shoot through the trees, over a hill for the first shot of the day when you’re not sure of the correct line makes you focus hard.

Spyglass Hill 1st Tee

Spyglass Hill 1st Tee

Then you turn get over the hill and turn the corner to an awesome sight.  The first is a long par 5 dogleg left and downhill.  The hole turns towards the ocean and the green is well bunkered.

1st Hole

1st Hole

The 2nd was a great short par 4, uphill to a blind green but it was when I reached the 3rd tee that I went WOW for the first time.  A great downhill par 3 towards the ocean at 172 yards long and playing into the breeze.

3rd Hole - 172 yard Par 3

3rd Hole – 172 yard Par 3

Then we moved onto the 4th Hole… One of the most amazing holes I’ve played.  It is only 370 yards long Par 4 but it certainly requires some accurate ball striking.

4th Hole - Dogleg Par 4

4th Hole – Dogleg Par 4

A dogleg left around a sandy wasteland to one of the most amazing greens I have ever played and seen.  A very narrow boomerang shaped green with 3 tiers away from the line of play.

4th Green - Dogleg green with 3 tiers.

4th Green – Boomerang Shape Green with 3 Tiers.

The 5th hole is a long, slightly uphill par 3.  It is well bunkered the green has quite a bit of undulation.

5th Hole - 197 yard Par 3

5th Hole – 197 yard Par 3

The course takes a distinct change in character after the 5th hole going from a seaside course played on sand dunes to a tree line pine forest course. It is a very pretty course but also very challenging…

7th Hole - 529 yard Par 5

7th Hole – 529 yard Par 5

There is one thing that is very apparent here… The par 3’s are awesome.  With both long and short par 3’s they certainly offer a challenge for the golfer.

12th Hole 178 yard Par 3

12th Hole 178 Yard Par 3

15th Hole - 130 Yard Par 3

15th Hole – 130 Yard Par 3

The Par 5’s are all quite challenging with birdie being hard work and a par being well earned.

11th Hole - 528 yard Par 5

11th Hole – 528 yard Par 5

14th Hole - 560 yard Par 5

14th Hole – 560 yard Par 5

But above all else… this was a beautiful golf course.

16th Hole - 476 Yard Par 4

16th Hole – 476 Yard Par 4

17th Hole - 325 Yard Par 4

17th Hole – 325 Yard Par 4

Arriving back at the clubhouse after playing the best golf course I had played to date(lucky I wasn’t worried about the score) the staff were there to meet us to clean our clubs and shoes.  The cool air into the golf shoe felt amazing.

Shoe Cleaning Post Round

Shoe Cleaning Post Round

We went into the clubhouse for a couple of drinks before heading back to the Resort to get changed to head out for dinner

Spyglass Hill Clubhouse

Spyglass Hill Clubhouse

That night we headed to Baja Grill & Filling Station in Carmel for some Mexican for dinner.  On the way the taxi driver showed us where Clint Eastwood lives and that he’s a regular in town.  The Baja Cantina is full of automotive memorabilia and there isn’t a spare place on the wall or bar to hang anything else.  It has a great atmosphere and was certainly some great Mexican food.  The boys got stuck into the Margaritas while I stuck to a couple of light beers.

Baja Cantina

Baja Cantina

After dinner I headed straight back to my room for an early night… I needed a good night sleep with Pebble Beach in the morning, I wanted to be fresh.  I was in bed by 9pm and asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.

WEDNESDAY – PEBBLE BEACH GOLF LINKS

I woke up feeling fantastic after getting 10 hours sleep… I was ready for one of my most anticipated days of the trip, playing PEBBLE BEACH GOLF LINKS.  Again we met for a five star breakfast while enjoying a 5 star view of the 18th green with Carmel Bay behind it.

We headed straight out to the pro shop after breakfast and reported for our tee time.  Jason and I were partnered with Kevin Dale, a Melbourne businessman and fellow Golf Professional, Craig Spence.  Playing with Craig around Pebble Beach was going to be special as he played the 2000 US Open and a number of AT&T Pebble Beach Pro Ams here.

We had a few putts on the practice green, met our caddy Tommy and teed off the 1st at 9am.

Pebble Beach Clubhouse and Practice Green

Pebble Beach Clubhouse and Practice Green

The first hole is a Par 4, tight dogleg right. Not the best opening hole I’ve ever played but it was ok.

Craig Spence Tees off the 1st Hole

Craig Spence Tees off the 1st Hole

The 2nd hole is a 511 yard par 5 (502 yard par 4 in the US Open) which is reachable with two well struck and long shots.  The approach is guarded by a deep bunker about 50 yards short of the green.

2nd Hole

2nd Hole

We stood on the 3rd tee which is a 390 yard par 4 dogleg left with fairway bunkers ready to catch a drive hit on the wrong line.  I asked Craig what the line was… he told me it was at the far bunker.

Pebble Beach 2nd Tee

Pebble Beach 3rd Tee

He hit first a hit a pull draw way left of that line and said it might be in trouble…  I hit my drive exactly on the correct line and smashed it.  It landed straight in the bunker Craig had told me to aim at. Now Craig had always come across as a genuine, straight up kind of guy but this was now game on :)  His ball was centre of the fairway around the corner and mine was up against the lip of the bunker.  I managed to hit my ball onto the green and make an easy 2 putt par.  We had a good laugh after we putted out.

Now came the very special stretch of holes.  The holes located along the edge of Carmel Bay on the cliff tops.  The 4th hole is a short par 4 with the bay on the right hand side..  An uphill 2nd shot to a narrow green required accuracy.

4th Hole Panorama

4th Hole Panorama

The 5th Hole was a great par 3.  Certainly makes you think about where you can miss your tee shot with the cliffs edge alongside the right side of the green.

5th Hole - 192 yard Par 3

5th Hole – 192 yard Par 3

I stood on the 6th tee ready to conquer this hole like I had done so many times on many a computer game.  It was always a driver around 290 yards down the middle, a fairway wood around 90% on the power gauge onto the green and a 1 putt eagle.

6th Hole - 506 yard par 5

6th Hole – 506 yard par 5

That plan unraveled quickly when I hit my ball into the deep fairway bunker on the left side of the fairway.  The computer game never puts fear into you like this tee shot and cliffs on the right puts into the golfer. You also don’t appreciate how big the hill is that leads up to the green as illustrated below.

6th Hole - Par 5 Hill

6th Hole – Par 5 Hill

The green set on the cliff top overlooking Carmel Bay is awesome…

6th Green

6th Green

Now for the Pebble Beach Signature Hole.  The shortest hole on the course and almost on the planet.  Only 106 yards and also downhill it is a mere flick of a sand iron onto the green.  The only thing I can say is I’m glad we were experiencing a very calm day with no wind.  I can only imagine how you might have to approach this shot if the wind was blowing hard into or in from the right off the bay.  It is NOT the easiest of holes even though it is so short.  It makes your knees tremble a little which adds to the experience of playing Pebble Beach.

7th Hole - 106 Yard Par 3

7th Hole – 106 Yard Par 3

It was then on to one of my favourite holes of all time.  The 8th hole is a 427 yard par 4.  The tee is on the edge of the cliffs and you drive to the top of the hill with a hybrid as not to run out of fairway an over the cliffs edge.

8th Tee

8th Tee

I pushed my tee shot a little to the right and close to the cliffs edge but I’m kind of glad I did as it set up the most amazing 2nd shot I have ever experienced.  The following photo was taken from the left side of the fairway from about 170 yards from the green.  My shot was from 200 yards and on the right side of the fairway.  I had to come in over Carmel Bay and the green side bunker to get to the pin which was located back right.  Safe to say I bailed out to the left and hit the front of the green in the gap.

8th Hole 2nd shot

8th Hole 2nd shot

I was very happy to walk away with a par 4 on the 8th hole… It is probably my favourite hole anywhere in the world now.

8th Hole Green

8th Hole Green

The 9th and 10th Holes are also situated along the cliff tops, both long par 4’s and require solid nerves to execute the shots.

10th Hole - 446 Yard Par 4

10th Hole – 446 Yard Par 4

Now, the course takes a turn inland for 7 holes.  There are certainly some good holes from the 11th to the 17th but one feels a little let down after experiencing such a stretch of holes that the 4th – 10th Holes provide.

The best of the inland holes is probably the 14th Hole. A long 572 Yard Par 5 dogleg right with an uphill shot to a raised, undulating green makes for a challenging hole.

14th Hole - 572 Yard Par 5

14th Hole – 572 Yard Par 5

The 16th Hole also features an interesting 2nd shot with the green guarded at the front by a very large bunker.

16th Green

16th Green

Then we come to the 17th Hole. A 177 Yard Par 3 on a very flat piece of land.  At first glance it didn’t look very appealing at all.  The ground in between the tee and green is just a flat piece of grass but with a well bunkered green complex and the Carmel Bay in the background it definitely grew on me as a golf hole.

17th Hole - 177 Yard Par 3

17th Hole – 177 Yard Par 3

And then it was the hole I had been most waiting to play.  The 18th Hole at Pebble Beach.  It was like the encore to a sensational day. The tee shot is one of the most daunting shots in golf.  You think it would be easy to just bail out on the right but with large fairway bunkers, deep rough and out of bounds it’s not exactly an option.  The line is the bushy tree just left of the fairway bunkers.  Sometimes you just have to close your eyes and smash it hoping for the best.

Craig Spence Tees off the 18th

Craig Spence Tees off the 18th

Willow smashes one off the 18th

Willow smashes one off the 18th

Jason crunches one out there off the 18th

Jason crunches one out there off the 18th

Kevin Tees off the Last Hole

Kevin Tees off the Last Hole

My drive finished 30 yards short of the tree around 280 Yards from the green.  I asked Tommy our caddy what the go was here… His reply was a classic…

Well in 2010 in the US Open Tiger was only 10 yards further up.  The wind was howling from left to right off Carmel Bay.  He started his 3 wood out over the water and the wind brought it back landing on the green for 2.

18th Hole 2nd Shot

18th Hole 2nd Shot

Now, I was 280 Yards from the green, the wind was straight into my face and I can’t hit it out of my own shadow anymore so safe to say I couldn’t get there.  But I did pull out my 3 wood and hit a sling draw that started out to the right and worked around the bunker and finished about 40 yards short of the green.

It was then I turned the camera onto video mode and proceeded to capture the last 9 minutes or so of our round at Pebble Beach.  The video is well worth a watch with a couple of amazing golf shots captured and a bit of fun along the way.

David Wren walks the 18th Fairway at Pebble Beach

David Wren walks the 18th Fairway at Pebble Beach

Pebble Beach Drinks After the Game

Pebble Beach Drinks After the Game

After the game, Jason, Craig and I headed in to Carmel-by-the-Sea for a look around.  Jason and I wandered down to the beach and could see the 10th green in the distance.  It was irresistible so we walked the length of the beach to go and take another look.  I was in golfing heaven.

Soaking it up

Soaking it up

We were booked in to have dinner at Casanova Restaurant in Carmel-by-the-Sea.  We walked in the door and were lead to a very small, long room with a long table down the middle and chairs that barely fit either side.  The waiter read the specials and informed us we were in the Vincent Van Gogh Room which contained a table that Vincent Van Gogh dined on regularly at the Auberge Ravoux in Paris.

Vincent Van Gogh Room at Casanova

Vincent Van Gogh Room at Casanova

I had the Gnocchi Casanova for entree and a Cannelloni which were both the best Italian I have ever eaten (except my wife’s lasagne of course).  What a meal to finish an amazing day on the golf course.

 

It was slowly sinking in that we were heading home tomorrow… We were booked in to play at Links at Spanish Bay the following day at 6:50am but most of us were pretty tired, had such a great and memorable day at Pebble Beach that we decided we’d have a relaxing morning and nice breakfast before setting off back to San Fransisco to catch our plane home.

THURSDAY – HOME TIME

The day had come… how depressing.  I was very keen to get home to see my family after 2 weeks away but the trip of a lifetime was coming to an end.  After another sensational breakfast and packing our bags we headed to ‘The Market’ for one last look in the shops while waiting for our transport to arrive.

Jason and I with the Pebble Beach Rolex

Jason and I with the Pebble Beach Rolex

And a group shot with our fantastic hosts outside the The Lodge at Pebble Beach

Checking out of The Lodge at Pebble Beach

Checking out of The Lodge at Pebble Beach

 

SUMMARY

Having returned and been back home for a while, compiling the photos and writing this blog post, I can reflect on what a trip of a lifetime if really was.  I was very fortunate to get to go on this trip where I met so many great people and experience a couple of my bucket list items.

The Chasing Birdies Team of David Wren, Mark Allen and Craig Spence made the trip a memorable one.  I’m sure if we Jason and I had gone by ourselves and tried to plan everything we wouldn’t have got to experience nearly as much as what we did.  I certainly give the Chasing Birdies Team an A+ for organizing an amazing trip and can highly recommend them to host you on a trip to the Masters.

The Chasing Birdies Team at Pebble Beach

The Chasing Birdies Team at Pebble Beach

I still regularly look through the memorabilia that I got while I was in States and relive parts of the trip.  I made sure I grabbed a handful of logo pencils or tees at each place I played, as every time I delve into my golf bag and grab a different one it reminds me of where I was when I got it.

I am getting my Par 3 Contest Pin Flag and Par 3 Contest Cap framed soon along with some of the photos I took to hang in our coaching centre.  I will also endeavour to obtain Adam Scotts signature later in the year on my 2013 Masters Pin Flag so I can frame that along with a few other items to hang up as well.

I am certainly thankful I got to experience this trip with good mate Jason and highly recommend going with at least one person you know well if not a group of mates.  It’s no good experiencing a trip that good and not being able to relive it. once you return, with others that were there and have similar memories.

If I had the chance, I would go back in a heartbeat… I want to return to Augusta National one day, as now I know exactly what I’m missing each year when it’s on TV.  If you’re thinking of going one year and have the means but are tossing up whether to go or not then I say, “You’ve got rocks in your head if you don’t!”

THE BEST COURSE

The best course I played while I was there is a tough one… Dallas National, The Reserve Club and Palmetto were definitely memorable and I would highly recommend a game on them if you get the chance, but Spyglass Hill and Pebble Beach are the two leaders of the courses I played.

The holes from the 2nd through to the 10th at Pebble Beach is the best stretch of holes I have ever played.  The setting on the edge of the cliffs as you make your way around Carmel Bay is quite breathtaking and dramatic.  Then you get around to the 17th and 18th which is like an encore to what you experienced earlier in the round.  I have to then compare that to Spyglass Hill… The first few holes are on the sand dunes with views of the Pacific Ocean and then you make the turn into the pine plantation.  In my opinion, there are less holes at Spyglass Hill that let it down with a few holes at Pebble Beach which I was disappointed with.  Spyglass is a very challenging course as well as being very pretty and just about all of them I would rate as very good to great golf holes.  But in making the decision, I keep finding myself drawn to the dramatic holes of Pebble Beach as the most memorable.  There are enough of unbelievable holes at Pebble Beach to cancel out the poor ones which keeps it just in the winners circle.

If anyone has been thinking about going to the Masters and never done anything about it, I am more than happy to discuss my experience and advise of the best way to do it.  It’s something I will never ever forget.  Feel free to contact me via email HERE

If anyone that I know, does in fact go with the Chasing Birdies Team to the Masters and mentions that you chose them on my recommendation, I will reward you with a FREE 5 Lesson Package* (valued at $260) to get you playing your best before you leave. *Conditions Apply

It is with sadness once again that I finish this post, as I have been reliving all of my trip every time I sit down in front of the computer.  I will no doubt remember bits and pieces and will continue to update this blog post.  Well done to you on reaching the end of this long blog post as well.

Hopefully see you walking the fairways of Augusta National one day!!

 

Willow
Director of Golf & Coaching @ Rossdale Golf Club
Director of Golf & Coaching
Rossdale Golf Club
Aspendale, VIC. Australia

P: (03) 9580 4763

PGA Australia - Full Member since 2005
Callaway Golf - Brand Ambassador
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2 Responses so far.

  1. Rob Barnett says:

    David,
    Thanks for a wonderful travelogue. You have confirmed for me that this trip is a must in the next year or two.
    Best regards,
    Rob

    • Willow says:

      Rob, I can highly recommend this trip and have only the highest of praise for the Chasing Birdies Tours team of David Wren and Mark Allen. They do a fantastic job of looking after everyone but it’s all the little extra things they do that make the difference. Please consider them if you decide to go and don’t forget to mention my name :)

      Willow

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