By Ann Liguori
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You golfers know how special Augusta National is. If you have not been to The Masters in Augusta, Georgia, in-person, to watch the first Major on the professional men’s calendar each year in April, you no doubt watch every minute of the tournament coverage (and/or hopefully listen to my regular up-dates on WFAN 660 AM throughout the four days of the tournament!)
Playing on the pristine fairways of Augusta National is one of the most difficult invitations for any golfer to acquire, no matter how well-known or accomplished a player you are. If you are not a guest of one of the 300 members who belong to Augusta National, and who may only pop in several times a year to play, there is no other way to get on the course aside from a rare opportunity when an official from the Club donates the opportunity to a charity, and a lucky bidder, who comes up with the bucks, wins the opportunity, usually via a live auction at the charity event. And the course is only opened from October to the end of May, creating a rather small window if you ever do have a chance to play.
I have been covering The Masters as WFAN’s golf correspondent every year since 1998 and have had the opportunity to play the course twice, on the Monday after the tournament. Both experiences were phenomenal as the course is in the same shape it is for the Masters and the pin placements are in the same exact locations as they are for the final round of The Masters on Sunday! Each year during the tournament, they hold a lottery for the media and pick approximately 40 people to play the course. I was picked to play the course in 1998, my first year there covering and then again, eight years later. Once you are picked in this lottery system to play, you have to wait seven years before you can enter the lottery again for the chance to get picked. Every time I have been eligible to put my name in the lottery, I make sure I bring my golf clubs with me. There have on occasion been members of the media who put their name in the lottery, get selected and don’t have their clubs! Then they spend all of Sunday looking for a rental set! The last thing one wants to do if you play Augusta National, or any course in my opinion, is play with a rental set!
Well, now you too can experience this most prestigious, private and beautiful golf course via…a video game! Billy Payne, the Chairman of Augusta National, announced this week that Augusta National will be featured in EA Sports’ next edition of ‘Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12’ golf fame franchise.
The game will be available on Wii, PlayStation and Xbox 360 and will go on sale March 29.
Augusta National and EA Sports have been working on this for the past three years. Payne wants to grow the game, particularly among youth, and everyone knows how connected our youth (and many adults) are with interactive video games! Payne told AP Sports, “We hope our inclusion will foster an appreciation for the history and traditions of the Masters and inspire the next generation of golfers.”
All proceeds from the EA Sports game will go to the Masters Tournament Foundation, a newly formed charity that enables Augusta National to invest in development programs to help grow the game. The Masters has donated over 36 million dollars to charities through the years.
Hats off to my good friend Austin Rhodes, host of the top-rated talk show in Augusta, Georgia on WGAC 580 AM Radio, who called for a video game to show off Augusta National and the Masters four years ago! In April of 2007, Austin wrote his weekly column published in ‘Metro Spirit’ Augusta’s Independent Voice, and wrote, “What better way to educate today’s young golfers about the heroes of yesterday than to have them walk Augusta National as it was 70 years ago, with Bobby Jones (he was a golfer before he was an expressway) and Walter Hagen at their side? Want to see Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Ken Venturi in all their early glory? Plug in 1962 and watch them go!
The technology also exists that would allow the giants of yesterday to play against the giants of today. Want to see Tiger Woods challenge Tom Watson? Punch a button.
Last year the club selected Billy Payne to lead them into a new era, fresh on the heels of the National’s most progressive chairman ever, Hootie Johnson. There have been startling changes in the way the tournament is played and presented, most notably, full 18-hole coverage and the American premiere of high-definition broadcasting for a sporting event….”
Austin and I have talked about how cool it would be for Augusta National to be featured in an interactive video game many times through the years and I know Austin has spoken to various officials at Augusta National about the idea. It’s good to see they think so too!
EA Sports used a laser scanning technology which captures details of the course, from the azaleas, magnolias and dogwoods in bloom to the vast elevation changes that spectators always marvel about when they walk the course during the tournament. Augusta National is a breathtakingly beautiful course, situated on the site of a 365-acre property which was once Fruitland Nurseries. The nursery was an indigo plantation years ago and offered a great variety of flowering plants and trees, including azaleas and magnolias, a row of which were planted before the Civil War. Each April, these azaleas and magnolias are in full bloom and add to the beauty of the property, perfectly manicured and maintained. Add in the charming bridges (Hogan Bridge, the Nelson Bridge and the Sarazen Bridge), Ike’s Pond, Rae’s Creek, the Eisenhower Tree, the magnificence of Amen Corner (holes 11, 12 and 13), the pines and sharp elevation, and you have a blend of stunning natural beauty.
There is no other place I’d rather be in April. I guess if you have always dreamt of playing Augusta National, this may be the next best thing?!
Be sure to visit Ann’s web site at www.annliguori.com and order DVD copies of her interviews with some of the top names in sports and entertainment and signed copies of her book, ‘A Passion for Golf, Celebrity Musings About the Game.’