Augusta in a world of it's own

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The Independent Online

The glittering stars of world golf, resplendent in their designer apparel and comfortably ensconced in their private jets, have few problems in life.

Sure, the great Bobby Jones’ old maxim still applies, no matter how fine your Cashmere sweater and how immaculately creased your trousers. “Golf is assuredly a mystifying game” said the man who helped found and make successful the Masters tournament and Augusta National golf club where he was named President in 1933 and remains President in Perpetuity.

“It would seem as if a person has hit a golf ball correctly a thousand times, he should be able to duplicate the performance at will. But this is certainly not the case.”

Notwithstanding Jones’s wise words, the modern day professional has few other concerns apart from making sweet contact with a little white ball. No check-in times to make, no long queues at immigration. The stars fly in near here and are met on the tarmac in a luxury limousine and driven to their rented, plush home somewhere close by the course.

Mind you, even golf’s elite can find themselves caught up in the little hassles of everyday life when they stray into the real world. US golfer Tom Lehman went to collect a friend at Augusta airport a year or so back and had the very different experience of some joker, out of his mind on Jack Daniels without the coke, shooting at his tyres as he drove down the freeway at 60 miles an hour.

Inside the elite, closeted world of Augusta, however, all is calm, logical and orderly. Even running by patrons (they don’t call them anything as vulgar as fans or spectators here) is forbidden anywhere on this sacred stretch of sporting Valhalla. As for mobile phones, forget to switch them off when you enter the gates and ejection follows rapidly if the dreaded thing bleeps just once. Well, it’s their rules, their world.

But there is another Augusta, another life going on here. Just because millions of dollars are blown every day of the week here in the club shop – well, to call it a shop is misleading; it’s like a small supermarket – doesn’t mean that is necessarily the true face of Augusta, Georgia. Mind you, the tills are doing such roaring business that it’s no surprise they only play this tournament once a year. The red hot tills must need three or four months to cool down and recover from loading up all that dough.

But out in the real world, Augusta offers another image. Of course, the stars don’t see it and it’s doubtful many of the thousands of fans (sorry, patrons) who descend on this place from all over the world as well as all over America, bother to take a look. But get hopelessly and completely lost trying to follow simple driving instructions from the Georgia/South Carolina border, as I did one day this week, and you get a real idea of life in Augusta for unknown numbers of people.

They say in some parts of America, houses are now being sold for $1. Yep, roll up, roll up…a house for a dollar, folks. Of course, you have to take the debt on but that might not be that much if you have some cash lying around. Pity the poor owners who didn’t have any, and misguidedly believed that a 125% mortgage represented the fulfilment of their lifelong dreams.

But here in the poor areas of Augusta, it’s clear some houses can’t even sell for $1. They’re boarded up, messages of despair painted on boards and held up by rusting nails on the front. Gardens are overgrown, and in a couple of back yards, I spied a few wrecked, ruined cars. The American Dream? Dream on, kid.

In Downtown Georgia last night, some dude offered me some dope in the street. Yet just a couple of blocks away, tourists were queuing down the road to get a table at a popular Italian restaurant. Nearby, drifters were, well, just drifting, hanging around. No obvious place to go, obviously no money and no hope. And when you saw a group of them at a set of traffic lights (oops, sorry, robots), you felt getting out and asking for directions wouldn’t be the cleverest thing you’d ever done in your life.

All this is barely three miles away from Augusta National golf course’s immaculately trimmed fairways and greens and the luxury sofas of the clubhouse lounge. For sure, it’s not the golf club’s fault. But it shows another side to America, one which is going to be replicated right across this land in the coming times.