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Friday May 24, 2024

Masters eclipse steals spotlight from Augusta National

By Reuters
April 10, 2024
Patrons use glasses to view the eclipse during a practice round prior to the 2024 Masters. — AFP/File
Patrons use glasses to view the eclipse during a practice round prior to the 2024 Masters. — AFP/File 

AUGUSTA, Georgia: The course at Augusta National Golf Club is typically the star attraction during Masters week but on Monday the famed layout was momentarily eclipsed by a celestial event that left captivated golfers and spectators looking skyward.

At Augusta National, a horticultural masterpiece whose flora provides a vibrant backdrop to one of the world’s most exclusive golf courses, the sky slightly darkened and temperatures dropped during a practice round as the area experienced a partial solar eclipse.

“This is timed up pretty good; get to watch the end of the world at Augusta National, right?” joked reigning British Open champion Brian Harmon. While Augusta is not in the path of totality -- when the sun is completely obscured by the moon -- the spectacle was enough that the driving range lights came on and almost everyone on the course turned into sky gazers over the roughly 2-1/2 hour event.

“Pretty exciting,” said Austrian golfer Sepp Straka, who is making his third Masters start this week. “I don’t know how many people have seen an eclipse at Augusta National.” Those at the year’s first major on Monday received all-green protective solar eclipse glasses complete with the Masters logo on each side. Many started putting them on around 1:50 p.m. ET (1750 GMT) when the partial eclipse began.

By 3:08 p.m. ET, the deepest point of the partial eclipse when the moon covered about 80% of the sun, the temperature dropped and even those at Augusta National preparing for the year’s first major could not help but look up. “Every 10 minutes I would borrow someone’s glasses and I made sure at 3:08 to look up. It was pretty wild,” said Sahith Theegala, who finished ninth in his Masters debut last year.

“For about 45 minutes, I tried to hit shots with my glasses on because the haze -- it almost felt hazy out there, and my eyes were almost hurting a little bit. But I was paying attention to it for sure. It’s fun.” This marked the first time an eclipse had an impact on Masters week since the 1940 edition won by Jimmy Demaret when at one point during the final round 90% of the sun was covered.

So rare was the partial eclipse high above Augusta National that Will Zalatoris, who finished runner-up in his 2021 Masters debut, made sure to snag a souvenir. “I found a couple of Masters eclipse glasses, which I will be keeping for absolutely the rest of my life,” he said. “Those will be some collectibles that will be in my office forever.” Affectionately regarded as the ‘Cathedral of Pines’, the 7,555-yard Augusta National layout is one of the most famous golf courses in the world and the only permanent venue for any of the sport’s four majors.

From Magnolia Lane, a tree-lined drive that members use to enter the grounds, to Amen Corner, which may just be golf’s most famous stretch of holes, Augusta National has become a place all golfers dream of seeing once before they die. For those in attendance on Monday they not only got to walk the same hallowed grounds that have produced some of golf’s greatest memories but also got to soak up a cosmic spectacle that some felt was a once in a lifetime opportunity.