Spring is in the air and the comforting rhythm of Jim Nance’s voice will soon float across the airwaves as the biggest rite of spring for anyone who has ever watched a 7-iron zero in on a flagstick begins this week.
It’s Masters week, which means spring has really arrived. It’s time for azaleas, time to watch a golf ball slowly trickle down the hill to the stick at No. 16 and time to hear over and over again how this tournament doesn’t begin until the back nine on Sunday.
If you happen to be watching first-round coverage of the Masters on Thursday and you are following the group featuring defending champion Bubba Watson, you might see a familiar face in the background.
Dalton State College golf coach Ben Rickett will be a caddie at this year’s event in Augusta, working the loop for UT-Chattanooga golfer Steven Fox. Fox won last year’s U.S. Amateur Championship and earned an invitation to the Masters in the process.
Rickett was an assistant coach for the Mocs before being named to start the golf program from the Roadrunners.
Through his relationship with Fox, he was called to Cherry Hills Country Club near Denver last summer for the final rounds of the U.S. Amateur to work the bag. Fox would go on to win the title, beating Michael Weaver and rallying from dormie-two to force a playoff and win on the first extra hole to claim the Havemeyer Trophy.
As a big nod to the value of amateur golf and acknowledging the roots of the course, Augusta National traditionally pairs the defending Masters champion with the reigning U.S. and British Amateur champions. So Fox, with Rickett on the bag, will be in the Watson’s grouping on Thursday.
“It’s a dream come true,” Rickett said in a press release from the college. “As a golfer you dream of playing at the Masters. For me, being a caddie is the next best thing. Most people just dream about going to Augusta, but to be on the other side of the ropes is going to be amazing.”
On Saturday, Fox played a practice round at the club with three-time Masters winner Phil Mickelson, who also happened to play a practice round with former Secretary of State Condeleeza Rice on Sunday. According to Dalton State’s Bob Beavers, Ricketts said the practice with Mickelson “was a very helpful round with everyone sharing information and Mickelson was the most helpful of all.”
Fox said he looks forward to having his old coach walking the course with him.
“Ben is great to have on the bag,” Fox said. “He keeps my nerves down and I can talk to him about everything while out there on the course. Also, I have trust in him which is very valuable, knowing he won't steer me wrong on or off the course.”
Here are some other news and notes from around the area as greens start to firm up with the weather and fairways actually start turning green:
• Emmett Carroll is 86 years old, but if you run into him on a course, don’t give him any strokes and expect to win any bets. Even though Mr. Carroll has vision in only one eye and has difficulty hearing since he is deaf in one ear, the veteran of both the Army and the Air Force is merely running a con on area golfers.
A golfer for just a little over two decades since he retired from Cornet Carpet in Chatsworth in 1990, Mr. Carroll is part of group of players at Indian Trace golf course that pro Tracy Spurlock calls the course’s “Super Seniors.”
“They are a group of guys in their 80s and 90s, and they usually play on Tuesdays and Thursdays out here,” Spurlock said.
Guard your wallets if you are on the course on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
There are golfers who go their whole life without a hole-in-one, and Mr. Carroll recently carded his third — all coming after the age of 65. He aced the 115-yard 5th hole recently, playing with Andrew Lusk, Ronnie Woods and Ralph Parker.
“He usually shoots right around his age,” Spurlock said of Carroll. “He’s not a bad golfer, and that entire group is just great to have out here.”
• Dalton Golf and Country Club has been around since the second decade of the 20th Century, and changes have been as minor as some new fencing and as big as course redesigns and property acquisition.
But one of the things that has been constant at the club a lot longer than most has been the staff and the experience and familiarity with the course. In the recent edition of Golf Georgia magazine, the club was featured. The article focused on the stability of the membership during a time when many clubs have been affected by the economy and gave a lot of the credit to the staff.
Between director of golf Lowell Fritz, superintendent Mike Whaley and PGA professional Russ Allstun, the trio has 112 years combined experience at the club. Allstun is the young pup in just his 21st year at the club. Because of much of that stability, DGCC is actually seeing more play at a time when other courses in the Southeast have seen play drop.
“We did 1,500 more rounds two years ago than we did the year before and 2,000 more rounds last year,” general manager Scott Stuart said in the article. “And we’re up to almost 30,000 rounds (a year) again.”
Currently, the line of cypress trees lining Cleveland Highway have been removed, but the view from the road will not be unobstructed for long. Club officials said fencing which matches the fencing along Fleming Street will go along the entire fronting along Cleveland Highway, running along the property behind North Georgia EMC as well.
Chris Whitfield is a sports writer for The Daily Citizen. He needs about five or six more rounds to get his "new-to-him" set of Titleist irons dialed in. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.