National Geographic : 2003 Apr
AUGUSTA, GEORGIA "No Nation Rose So White and Fair, None Fell So Pure of Crime." Since its inception in 1934, the Masters has symbolized a pecu liar blend of nostalgia and revul sion, priding itself on not just its prejudice but also its ability to bend local wills to accept it as natural. A Masters Tournament badge, allowing all access to the grounds, remains expensive, hard to get. Yet today the Masters is a commercial engine for Augus tans of all stripe, both native and foreign-born, east Indian expatriate motel owners to Italian restaurant managers. Well within walking distance of Augusta National, no fast-food or commercial pop culture touchstone is left unturned. Krispy Kreme exists, Hooters too. In quaint, conservative Augusta you get the feeling that Man, for all his great feats and fatal flaws, is basically a party animal in need of fast redemption. A middle-aged black man named Jarvis Mims, driving a hotel shuttle van, gives me a discarded, but still valid, $21 badge to a Masters practice round and offers to drive me in to Augusta National, then pick me up in three hours, on his regular run, after I see how impossibly green the course is. He's as nice as pineapples, waving a hand callused by 30 years of back breaking manual labor at the old textile mill near the downtown flats and Savannah River. A blond teenager gabs as she takes in cash to direct cars on a lot near the grounds. "Got 108 in today," she says. "Money's for my college fund." Inside Augusta National's green-and-white brick walls, spectators traverse the course en masse, as if in human ant trails, moving double, triple, quadruple file, over the emerald lushness; roars come in distant waves from far-off holes. The trails also march into the clubhouse area and Founders Circle, up by Butler Cabin, in and out of the golf shop selling memorabilia. The course is dotted by discreet green plastic trash bag stands. The bags are fairly unnoticeable, except for the striking block letters they bear: PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE. Make that Mister "Please Please Please" himself, the Godfather of Soul, James Brown, the rhythm and blues icon who grew up here and now has a downtown Augusta boulevard named for him. To divine more about Augusta, I head down James Brown Boulevard with Lourdes D'Arcy Neely Coleman. Her father, Clement Neely, a black Korean War veteran, waited tables at the Bon Air Hotel on Walton Way. Wealthy planters from Charles ton or Savannah and big-city financiers came here to escape winter up north or yellow fever to the south. They needed dependable service. Thus the Neelys persevered. Lourdes put herself through Augusta College, then law school. Now Lourdes is home to practice law after a career away from Augusta. She drives in the downtown flats, quietly marveling that the same place could produce the Masters, President Woodrow Wilson, the Godfather of Soul, and the Patch. She points out a modest brick pillbox law office Wealthy planters and big-city financiers came here to escape winter up north or yellow fever to the south. A Masters cap tops Jeff Davis at Augusta's municipal course (left), where Isaac Arnold prac tices putts (below). Players irritated by noise occasionally lob shots to try to hit private planes landing at Daniel Field, buzzing with air traffic during Masters week.