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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 April, 2005, 11:51 GMT 12:51 UK
Field of dreams doesn't disappoint
By Alistair Bruce-Ball
BBC golf reporter at Augusta

The Augusta National is the very reason Nick Faldo took up golf.

It was watching Jack Nicklaus strut his stuff on the picture-perfect fairways, snaking their way through the avenues of imposing dogwood and pine trees, that made him decide to bin his bike (he was into cycling at the time) and develop the obsession that eventually saw him become the best golfer on the planet.

Larry Mize helps Sandy Lyle with his Green Jacket in 1988
My first Augusta memories are of Lyle's dramatic win in 1988
I remember my first sight of Augusta on television, watching Sandy Lyle dance his victory jig on the 18th green in 1988, and its colours, atmosphere and drama hypnotised me too.

It hasn't turned me into the best golfer in the world, I'm not much of a cyclist either, but Augusta was the one sporting venue I always wanted to visit and it doesn't let you down.

It springs up on you out of nowhere - one minute you're on the hideous Washington Road, a stretch of fast-food joints with their gaudy neon signs encouraging you to eat double your body weight in food, the next you're in golfing paradise.

The first thing that strikes you as you come through the gates is the "Augusta green".

The whole place is colour-coordinated in the famous green of the winner's jacket and it's almost like you're walking into a freshly decorated house. The buildings, the canopies, the grandstands, even the paper cups are green so that when they get thrown on the floor they don't ruin the effect.

That green is set off with a splash of white - the clubhouse and the caddies' uniforms, which are just big, baggy painters' overalls - and a comedy touch of yellow, as the course stewards have yellow hard hats to protect them from errant drives - very Bob the Builder.

Caddies outside Augusta's clubhouse
The caddies have to don decorators' togs at Augusta
The course is even more beautiful than it looks on TV. The fairways are like carpet, the white sand in the bunkers looking like crisp sheets on a freshly-made bed.

It's very hilly - which is something the commentators always say although you can't see it on TV - and surprisingly small.

From the TV experience you expect vast, long corridors of fairway shut off by the trees, but you can actually see a lot of the rest of the course around you.

A lot of the holes are close together and Paul Casey admitted that distracted him on the final day last year - the Englishman, playing in his first Masters, had a sensational third round which put him in the penultimate group on Sunday, but he got caught up in what Ernie Els was doing ahead of him and Phil Mickelson behind him.

I can see why it's hard to keep your focus, particularly with the roars that suddenly come blasting through the trees.

It was only a practice day on Monday but I tasted that at first hand when John Daly sent the crowds wild with a hole-in-one at the 16th. It made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck.

Nick Faldo celebrates his win with beaten rival Greg Norman in the background
Faldo's win in 1996 is one of Augusta's most famous chapters
What I also have to admit is that I'd already watched Daly hit two shots which got nowhere near and as he lined up the third I decided I'd seen enough, turned my back, started to walk away and missed the whole thing - hopefully not an omen for the week.

The last thing I'd say about Augusta is that if you have followed it on TV through the years it really does feel as if you know the course.

The real thrill for me was to see the spots from where the great shots have been played - the middle of the 13th fairway where Nick Faldo switched from club to club in 1996 before lacing a long iron into the green as he chased Greg Norman, and Sandy's fairway bunker on the 18th where in 1988 it all seemed to be slipping away before he produced that magical strike to earn his Green Jacket.

So many times you build something up and it doesn't meet expectations. But that's not the case with Augusta.

The proof of that is on the faces of people who've been here loads of times, even the golfers themselves, that glint in their eyes which tells you they love the place and they know they're at the start of a very special week.

Alistair will be reporting on the Masters for Radio Five Live from Thursday.



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