LORAN SMITH: Augusta National is a place to reconnect with old friends

Loran Smith writes about his conversation with Verne Lundquist and Bill Griffin

Loran Smith

Loran Smith

AUGUSTA — The first time I was in a train station in Great Britain and saw a sign that read, ”Meeting Place,” it brought pause. How simple, how functional? In small towns it is not a problem to meet someone at Sheppard’s filling station or at the fireplug across the street from the Primitive Baptist Church, but at a busy venue — like European train stations — there is nothing more sensible than meeting at the “Meeting Place.”

For the Masters, you probably could meet up with a friend at the tee box at one of the classic holes on the golf course, but that might become a needle in the haystack episode. If, however, you meet at the big oak between the clubhouse and the first tee becomes as simple as meeting at the “Meeting Place at Victoria Station in London.”

Outside the ropes near the clubhouse looking in are many of the badge holders who try to spot the famous golfers, other celebrities and the important industry people who follow them around. It was under the big oak that I met up with two old friends earlier in the week — Verne Lundquist of CBS and Bill Griffin of Rutledge the rural community of 783 in Morgan County.

Lundquist is back for his 30th Masters where he will work the telecast from his familiar position at the 16th hole. Recently he was honored with the Blackie Sherrod Award in Dallas and will receive the Vin Scully Award next month in New York, both for lifetime achievement in broadcasting. Blackie Sherrod, now 91, lives a very private life in Dallas, and Scully, 86, still broadcasts some Dodger games. For folks around the country — especially in the Southeast — Verne is best known, perhaps, for his play-by-play role with Southeastern Conference football in the fall.

Griffin, the consummate gentleman, and a member at Augusta didn’t join the conversation empty handed. Three weeks ago, he made a hole-in-one at the par 3 twelfth hole. He hit a 7-iron, 150 yards, into the cup of one of the toughest holes in golf. Two well known guests were playing Augusta that day, Eli and Peyton Manning.

Eli and Bill have a mutual friend which led to Eli sending a text message of Bill’s signature moment. Make an ace at Augusta and your town crier becomes Eli Manning. Not bad for a kid from Rutledge.

Over lunch in the clubhouse, the conversation was highlighted by Georgia football and golf memories. Lundquist, a seasoned raconteur, became privy to a feel good moment in Griffin’s life which dates back to the days when he was enrolled at the University of Georgia. Bill and his three buddies — Wayne Tamplin, Edward Hudson and Whitey Hunt — were big Masters fans and were literally caught up in “Arnie’s Army.” They were there for Arnold’s last Masters title, his fourth, in 1964.

Even in those days tickets and rooms were hard to come by, but college kids, with limited budgets, know how to improvise. Bill and two of his friends, Tamplin and Hudson, slept in their car in the parking lot of the old Green Jacket restaurant on Washington Road.

They got up in the morning and took turns, walking across to the Texaco Station with their shaving kits and freshened up for another day of following the King. With Arnold winning, they returned to campus early Sunday evening, fulfilled. They had seen their favorite player win and were smitten like everybody else with the Masters scene, the traditions and the aurora of the tournament.

A few years ago when Bill, who served as President of the Oakmont Golf Club for eight years and had become friends with Arnold, was invited to join Augusta. The first guests he invited were his Green Jacket parking lot buddies.

The Big Tree outside the club house is not only a convenient meeting place, some very interesting conversations have taken place there over the years. The Bill Griffin story bespeaks warmth, charm and humility — a good guy not forgetting his old friends.