AUGUSTA, Ga. – University of Texas freshman Brandon Stone is the son of a professional golfer and counts Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel as friends, but even he anticipated acting like a tourist when he arrived at the golf course Monday.
Stone, like the rest of the field at the Augusta State Invitational, received tickets to Monday’s Masters practice rounds at Augusta National. “It’s every golfer’s dream to go there,” said Stone, of South Africa. What was he most excited about? Taking a photo in front of the clubhouse, checking out the elevation change at the par-5 second and “just being there. Everything about it. The aura. Seeing how manicured that golf course is.”
Forest Hills is Augusta State’s home course and host of the Augusta State Invitational. It’s a scruffy public course that can’t compare with the courses that college golf’s elite see throughout the year, but most players play with one eye on the more famous layout across town. Said Augusta State head coach Kevin McPherson, “The biggest attraction is not the golf course here, it’s the one across the street.”
Stone also was scheduled to have dinner with countryman Gary Player on Monday evening. South Africa’s golf elite are a tight-knit bunch. Stone’s father, Kevin, is a former winner on the Sunshine Tour, South Africa’s professional circuit. Brandon Stone is one of the world’s top amateur golfers. He finished fourth at the Augusta State Invitational.
“My dad has been (to Augusta National) and told me stories about it,” Brandon Stone said. “It’s always been a special place for me. Coming from South Africa, there’s only a few select people who get to go to Augusta.”
Monday’s Masters practice round was brought up often during the Augusta State Invitational. SMU freshman Austin Smotherman said he tried to keep his mind off the Masters while competing, but the thoughts crept in once a day.
Forest Hills will never be mistaken for Augusta National. The yellow, dormant rough that lines each fairway is the first indicator, but there’s enough small similarities to make it serve as an appropriate appetizer for Monday’s main course. Towering pine trees rise out of pine straw on each side of the fairways. There’s the occasional dogwood and its white flowers, an azalea bush behind the 11th tee, and the rolling terrain of northeast Georgia. Even the road that leads to Forest Hills is an homage to the famed course across town. Magnolia Drive leads to Forest Hills. Only a select few ever drive down Magnolia Lane. Bobby Jones, co-founder of Augusta National, is honored with a plaque at Forest Hills that commemorates his 13-shot victory at the 1930 Southeastern Open at Forest Hills, a victory that preceded his wins in that year’s U.S. Open, Open Championship, U.S. Amateur and British Amateur.
The winners of the world’s best tournaments receive invitations to the Masters. The Augusta State Invitational may be the only one in which the whole field gets to Augusta National.
“It’s the greatest tee gift you can get at any tournament,” McPherson said. Few will question that statement.