The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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April 9, 2013

Nothing is quite like the Masters

College football bowl season brings chill bumps and salivating taste buds, and there’s nothing quite like October baseball. But for me there’s no better time to be a sports fan than early April.

For starters, there’s the beginning of baseball season. It’s the time of the year where everybody — even Pirates fans — has a team in the race. After a long winter full of snow and ice, sitting in the stands — or even at home on the couch — in short sleeves watching the boys of summer is more refreshing than an ice cold can of Arnold Palmer.

Then there’s the Final Four. Whether it’s finishing first in your office bracket pool, watching your favorite team cut down the nets, watching your least favorite team fail to cut down the nets or simply cheering for an old friend — as many West Virginia fans did with John Beilein Monday night — there’s always motivation for any sports fan to watch basketball in a football stadium and ask why the court has to be so much higher than the benches.

But the main reason I can’t wait to flip the calendar from March to April is a patch of land just across the Savannah River near the South Carolina-Georgia line where an old farm and former nursery is now the site of one of the greatest events in sports.

For the past six years, I held a job that for one week out of the year many sports fans would have chosen above playing professional basketball or managing the Yankees. As the sports editor of the Aiken Standard in Aiken, S.C., less than 20 miles from Augusta, Ga., I held one of the prized possessions in media — a credential to all seven days of The Masters.

I’ll never forget walking onto the grounds of Augusta National Golf Club for the first time in 2007. If you’ve seen it on television, you know it’s a spectacular place. If you’ve seen in it person, you know even the finest HD picture doesn’t do it justice.

I’m often asked what’s the best part of covering golf’s most prestigious event. There’s no better place to be than at the top of the media stand at the 18th green on Masters Sunday, feeling the Georgia breeze cool off the hot sun and listening to the roars echo from Amen Corner.

But for me, I always love sitting at any hole in the middle of the other patrons and listening to the conversations — fathers telling sons about Jack Nicklaus’ unlikely win in 1984, grandfathers telling granddaughters exactly where they were standing when Gary Player made a clutch putt or when Arnold Palmer converted a perfect blast from a greenside bunker.

Most of the other big events in sports — the Super Bowl, the Final Four, the World Series, the World Cup — move around from year to year, but not The Masters. It’s hidden away in a most unlikely spot across from an IHOP and a grocery store on Washington Road, and it never moves.

The patrons, many of whom have tickets in their families, have been coming for 20, 30, 60 years, have traditions and memories that make the event, just as CBS promotes it, “a tradition unlike any other.” Whether it’s watching competitors skip balls across ponds at Wednesday’s par 3 contest, standing on the opening tee on a chilly Thursday morning as Nicklaus, Palmer and Player begin the tournament with ceremonial tee shots or, of course, waiting at No. 18 on Sunday for a new winner to slip on a green jacket, the magic of Augusta should be on every sports fan’s bucket list.

If fans are moved almost to tears when they see the course for the first time, imagine what it’s like for a player stepping up to the first tee with a huge gallery watching.

That’s the experience that 2012 Greenbrier Classic champion Ted Potter Jr. will experience this week. By virtue of his win in White Sulphur Springs last July, Potter will be part of the field in Augusta, and that’s an event I want to chronicle.

So thanks to the good people at The Masters and the support of The Register-Herald, I’m headed back to Augusta today for the seventh straight year. I can almost see the azaleas and taste the pimento cheese, and I hope you will enjoy my accounts of the events, both from my eyes and those of Potter — which are sure to be as wide as the No. 1 fairway.

— E-mail: chuffman@ and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.

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