J. Carl "Butch" Antolini
For those ate up with golf you can hear the voice of Jim Nantz every April telling you about The Masters — a tradition like no other.
Long before Nantz took to the national airwaves, I have had a deep interest every spring, eager to see the television coverage of the blooming azaleas, the Georgia pines, the carpet-like appearance of the fairways and greens that adorn Augusta National and of course the competition to wear the famed Green Jacket.
When something gets your attention, especially when you think it’s an experience you’ll never actually have the chance to have in person, it’s easy to conjure up images in the mind of what it really is like.
From a very young age, if I’m remembering correctly I was about 6-years-old, I began to develop a curiosity for the game of golf.
I remember bugging my Dad, who worked two jobs most of the time I was growing up, to take me with him when he would go (I didn’t get to see him too much), in fact it was just a couple of times every year in the mid to late 1960s.
Quick to volunteer to man the pull cart that his clubs were attached to, I have fond memories of going with him one time in particular on a special trip to Canaan Valley. It was just a nine hole course at the time with a pro shop just a little larger than an outhouse—no riding carts, no hotel, no ski resort, nothing but some pretty green grass on top the mountain in neighboring Tucker County. I still remember the other three guys who were with him that day—Gary Edgell, Jim Hamner and Walter Hopwood. The experience hooked me.
As I got a little older I finally got the chance to play for the first time when I was 12, baseball grip and all.
By the time I was 17, the grip had changed to interlock and when I wasn’t in school or working, I would play up to 72 holes a day. Dawn to dusk. I even got pretty good, not great, but owned a 7 handicap in 1978.
Those were the days.
But life changes. Commitments, responsibilities and zoom, 35 years goes by—and now the handicap is a legitimate 21.
Still, however, I’ve never lost the desire for the game.
Over the years I’ve been fortunate enough to attend three U.S. Open Championships at Oakmont, the Ryder Cup at The Greenbrier, The Greenbrier Classic, and a couple of other tournaments where the professional golfers were—I was with my dad for most of those events.
Neither of us had ever had the chance, though, to make the pilgrimage to Georgia to see The Masters and Augusta National. I never thought we’d actually get there and I know he didn’t even think it.
In a story that was published in The Augusta Chronicle last weekend that is adjacent to this column you can see we did indeed get the chance, thanks to a man who shares a similar love for the sport that has long been a patron at The Masters. His kindness made it happen and for that I will be forever grateful.
If you’ve read the story already, you know more of the specifics. If not I would encourage you to check it out. You will quickly understand.
I could go on for a long time telling you about Amen Corner, the 14-year-old phenom from China, nearly witnessing a hole in one at 16, and the $1.50 Pimento Cheese sandwiches.
But that’s enough.
For one glorious spring day I got to spend time at the Mecca of golf in this country and be at The Masters, live, with the man who started my passion for the game.
Dreams do come true.
And there is no HD television picture anywhere that can show you that or create the memories.
Antolini is the general manager and executive editor for Beckley Newspapers.