Air Augusta: Scouting the National
Monday, March 22, 2010
AUGUSTA, Ga. – It’s often said that that the concession stands at the Masters have some of the best deals in town. Indeed, the prices are anachronisms: You can get a Masters club for $2.50, a soft drink for $1 and a beer for $2. It’s tough to argue with those prices, even if you don’t fancy eating the club’s signature pimento cheese sandwich ($1.50).
But for my money, there’s arguably a better deal to be had just south of Augusta National at Daniel Field Airport. For $69 – just $23 per person – Augusta Aviation will give up to three passengers a bird’s-eye view of the National for 30 minutes. The only catch: The flights aren’t operated during Masters week because the airport personnel are too busy parking private aircraft. But if you’re in the vicinity any of the other 51 weeks of the year, it’s well worth making the detour to Daniel Field.
We made the flight in a Cessna 172 similar to the one pictured nearby. When our pilot, a slightly built 22-year-old named Heather Kasubowski, stood on the plane’s door frame and wiped off the windshield with a towel, I suddenly felt as if I had been airlifted into an episode of the old NBC comedy “Wings.” I’ve flown in small aircraft before, but never one where the pilot did her own pre-flight maintenance.
Kasubowski took us up over Forest Hills Golf Course, a 1926 Donald Ross design, before turning northeast toward Augusta National. You couldn’t miss it. Even on a late February morning, the National’s emerald green carpet 1,200 feet below popped against the grays and browns of the surrounding landscape. It felt as if we were on a reconnaissance mission, trying to detect the latest design tweaks.
We flew across Amen Corner, over the new practice area, around the north side of the par-3 course and on toward neighboring Augusta Country Club. From there, Kasubowski detoured northwest up the Savannah River, passing over Champions Retreat Golf Club. We doubled back for another pass over Augusta National before returning to Daniel Field.
Becky Shealy, vice president of business development for Augusta Aviation, says passengers sometimes come to Augusta hoping they can play the National. When they learn otherwise, they sometimes come to Daniel Field for the next best thing.
“We tell them they can say, ‘I didn’t get in it, but I got over it,’ ” Shealy says.