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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 March, 2005, 08:54 GMT 09:54 UK
Green Jackets and green fingers
By Jamie Lillywhite
Greenkeeping editor

The Augusta National, the home of the Masters, is a magical place that can inspire people in many different ways.

Nick Faldo, watching back in Welwyn Garden City, was moved to take up golf after watching Jack Nicklaus win one of his six Green Jackets.

Golf was already a passion of mine when one of my great heroes, Sandy Lyle, became the first British winner of the Masters in 1988.

But Sandy's triumph started me on an obsession with Augusta that extended to the wondrous, multi-faceted world of gardening.

I'm not talking about "runner beans at the allotment, cheese and pickle sandwiches in the potting shed" gardening, admirable though I'm sure it is.

My fascination surrounds the cultivation of trees, shrubs, bulbs and their thousands of exotic variants.

Nowhere in the sporting world is there a better example of an aesthetic backdrop to the competitive arena than at Augusta.

Nowadays, I tune in more to see the horticultural splendours of the course than to watch the players.

Many Masters viewers will not have been to a tournament in their lives, and may not even watch another on television, but the unique allure of Augusta always brings them back.

The Augusta package is quite stunning, even through two-dimensional TV cameras.

BBC Sport's Jamie Lillywhite in action
The BBC greenkeeping guru gives the Arundel National its second cut

Vast, undulating, immaculately manicured fairways of an emerald green unsurpassed in its intensity; majestic pine trees, with the needles combed assiduously to form a "pine straw" carpet underneath.

Everything about the course is perfect, with blue dye even added to the lakes to make them more attractive.

One story tells of a man who accepted a $100 bet to find a weed on the grounds, and returned several hours later weedless and lighter of pocket.

Golfing purists sometimes criticise Augusta for its manufactured elements, claiming that the pace and angles of the greens are unfair and not in keeping with the origins of the sport.

But the fact remains that more people dream of playing this little slice of heaven on earth than any other course in the world.

Azaleas are the shrubs most commonly associated with Augusta, providing splashes of colour during Masters week, but there are many other horticultural delights, with each hole named after a plant on the course.

Take the opening hole, Tea Olive, and it transpires that Osmanthus, seen in early spring in gardens throughout Britain with its jasmine-scented white flowers, derives from the family.

The majority of the plants at Augusta can only grow in acidic soil, the antithesis of the heavy clay found in most gardens in south-east England.

Tiger Woods amongst the azaleas
Augusta is rightly famous for its greens, purples, yellows, reds.....

But through hard work, financial outlay and some chemical assistance, I have managed to recreate my very own Augusta in Arundel.

So instead of regulation roses, my garden is a riot of azaleas, camellias, magnolias and nandina.

I have even managed to coax out a Cercis canandensis, or Red Bud (the 16th), which rarely flowers in England because of the climate.

I already had Holly (18th) and Jasmine (eighth), while Golden Bell, the name for the 12th hole, is better known here as Forsythia, whose bright yellow flowers are seen across Britain in the spring.

I did have a Prunus persica, the Flowering Peach, which is seen on the third hole, but that is no longer with us for reasons that have more to do with a mail order company I won't mention than any neglect on the gardener's part.

Conditions at Augusta are perfect for all these species. The course was formerly a nursery and many of the plants were raised by the previous owners.

Georgia's warm spring sunshine also helps.

In fact, in recent years, mild weather meant the flowers were sometimes past their best before Masters week, so ice was put around the roots to delay them - another indication of Augusta's attention to detail.

So while this year's Masters may inspire another Faldo to blossom, it could also plant a seed in the mind of a future gold medallist at the Chelsea Flower Show.





Links to more Masters 2005 stories


 

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