Tales of heartache and unlikely triumph are as much a part of the Masters golf tournament — playing out for the 77th time this weekend in Augusta, Ga. — as its Technicolor flora.
Better still, you don’t have to love golf to have a favorite, whether it’s Seve Ballesteros making birdies from the parking lot; or Craig Stadler, blowing the lead in 1979, left alone and weeping in a mound of azaleas above the No. 12 green; or Augusta native Larry Mize chipping in from the next ZIP code at No. 11 to beat Greg Norman in a playoff in 1987; or Jack Nicklaus — the Olden Bear — roaring from the pack to win his sixth green jacket at the age of 46; or Rory McIlroy throwing it away with a duck hook between cabins off the 10th fairway in 2011.
And we haven’t even mentioned Tom Weiskopf’s infamous 13 at the par-3 12th in 1980, a recollection that will be useful later.
Among the salient joys of the Masters’ celebrated moments is they are invincibly documented. Closer to home, accounts of events on the links at Tampa Bay Golf & Country Club, while in many ways no less outlandish, should be filed under the heading: Well, You Can Believe That If You Want To.
They should know what they’re getting into.
For instance, says Lou Cappucci, a 15-year resident, late in the day of the club championship a few years back, the tournament leader smoked a wayward drive that headed straight for a moving van parked in the street beyond the 13th fairway. As one of the movers, propped in a chair at the open back gate, dove for cover, the ball ricocheted off the trailer.
“It bounces back in bounds,” Cappucci says. “The guy birdies the hole and wins the tournament. Amazing, right?”
But Cappucci isn’t finished. “We’ve got all these houses along the course. Once I saw a guy hit a shot that hit somebody’s roof. The ball rolls down into the gutter, trickles to the downspout and —
Right. Know what else? “Gullible” isn’t in the dictionary.
“It’s 54-hundred yards from the members’ tees,” says Dave Dugan, president of the local men’s association, “but it’s the toughest 54-hundred yards you’ll ever play.”
Dugan arrived from Pennsylvania boasting a supply of eight dozen Titleist Pro V1 balls — among the most expensive in golf — and having to resupply “in a month-and-a-half.” Says Dugan, “We get 6-, 7-handicap players moving here and all of a sudden they’re 16-
More than once, players new to the course have bought boxes of 15 balls before leaving for the first tee, says Pro Tim Baker, “and at the turn, they’ll be back in here buying 15 more.”
Dale Last, who moved from north of the Wisconsin Dells two years ago, sympathizes. Early on, Last splashed six shots into the hazard on the par-3 second hole before his seventh found dry land. It was Weiskopf at the Masters, the fictional Roy “Tin Cup” McAvoy. Like McAvoy, says Last, “I wasn’t budging until I hit one over.”
With water on every hole and this being Florida, local rules revisions inevitably come around to discussions of how much of a drop is allowed when balls settle by basking alligators. This, inevitably, leads to a retelling of the time Joe Wagner — Joe Wags — chased off a 6-footer with a bop on the nose from his ball retriever, then lost use of the thing when the gator, reconsidering its retreat, returned with a bite that took the ball and nearly the bottom third of the tool.
That’s easier said than done. Dale Whittington, the community’s original developer and the man behind the “golf free for life” pledge — no, we’re not going there again — also gets credit/blame for the layout. Alas, since selling the place in 1998, the developer/designer himself has disappeared, like a scandalously hooked Maxfli, into a dense thicket of other Dale Whittingtons summoned up, but not distinguished by, various permutations of Internet search terms.
No evidence indicates this was anything but Whittington’s first and only stab at links design. Nor can we report with certainty Whittington ever played the game. The only reasonable conclusion is, besides real estate development, Whittington’s money was in golf ball manufacturing.
It’s not a course for hackers, says retired U.S. Navy Capt. Wayne Bratschi, who loves the place as much for its remorseless challenge as for the street-legal golf cart the homebuilder included in the price of his house.
Giving a visitor an hour-long tour in that very cart, the captain cheerfully shared his local knowledge. But we needn’t have budged from the clubhouse. With scant exception, his scouting report boils down to this:
Hit it left, you’re screwed. Hit it right, you’re screwed. Hit it short, you’re screwed. Hit it long, you’re screwed.
That may be, says Allan Scurfield, admittedly “not much of a golfer” from Oxford, England, via Benicia, outside San Francisco. “But once you’re here, you never worry about getting old,” he says. “We’ve had more fun since we moved here than you can possibly imagine.”
Telling new stories. Embellishing on old ones. Believing them. Or not. It’s all part of the fabric. Who knows what fresh horrors Saturday will bring?