AUGUSTA, Ga. – The hill that leads from the Par-3 course here at Augusta National is steep. On Wednesday it also was wet and slick from a major rain the night before.
Carolyn Licht is a petite New Yorker in her 40s, not the ideal choice to handle the task she was attempting: pushing her 88-year-old father, Lewis, and his old-school wheelchair up the incline.
At first sign of struggle, though, a man stepped in to help, grabbing the handles and shoving Lewis and his chair up top. Carolyn thanked him profusely but he just waved his hands and headed back to watch some golf. It was, he said, what anyone would do here and, to that, she actually agreed.
"Every time I have problems pushing, guys just jump in and come to my rescue," she said.
The image of a daughter hauling her elderly father in a wheelchair across Augusta National, of course, is a heartwarming part of the fabric of this event.
The patrons, especially during the early-week practice sessions, aren't here to see golf, per say. They are here to experience the magical grounds they've seen, often together, on television for years.
The trip is as much who they experience it with as what they experience. The bubbling of Rae's Creek, the simplicity of Hogan's Bridge, the curve of the bunkers behind 13 are all breathtaking. They are even better with the parent that first introduced it to you, or the child you're teaching it about.
Golf in general, and Augusta National in particular, is about the oldest of ties and deepest of memories and the most perfect of ways to reconnect. This is a game and a place that never ages with its fans.
Lewis Licht, a dentist from Roslyn, N.Y., first came here 15 years ago at the urging of his wife, Barbara, who said every golfer had to make it to the sport's holiest of grounds at least once. They both loved the game and were then in their 70s. Barbara was wheelchair-bound then, stricken with multiple sclerosis. She was adamant she and her husband experience it together. So they went.
"I pushed her around," Lewis said.
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They had a wonderful time, watching Tiger Woods win his first green jacket. In the ensuing years they raved about the trip, speaking wistfully of the sights, the sounds, the smells. Barbara passed away three years ago, and Lewis thought he'd never return, content they had made it once.
Then a couple months ago, when she was visiting her father, Carolyn saw a promotion for this year's tournament on television. She turned and said, "Dad, can we go to the Masters?"
"My mother always said it was phenomenal," Carolyn said. "She just loved it. So I decided I wanted to see it. And I wanted to see it with my dad."
"And I wanted to see it with my daughter," Lewis said.
No one wants to talk about time, but it ticks. Carolyn had a job in sales that now offered the resources and flexibility to make this happen. No one will ever regret not waiting to come here. Carolyn jumped online, bought tickets to two days of practice rounds and booked a hotel room locally.
The fact that double hip surgery had left Lewis mostly in a wheelchair would just have to be dealt with.
"I figured where there's a will there's a way," Carolyn said. "Whatever we can do, we can do."
The Lichts aren't alone on the grounds here. You can see families like them everywhere, seizing the chance to get dad or mom or grandpa down here while they still can.
Sometimes it's a group of brothers. Sometimes it's a group of cousins. Sometimes it's parent and a child together. It's all ages. The vast majority of them walk. They nibble on pimento sandwiches on the back nine and sip beers near the live oak and sometimes they just stand and gaze out at some of the most glorious acres in America.
For some it's too late for a walk, but not to be here.
Augusta National does all it can to be accessible for the disabled, but it's still a hilly, expansive golf course, and everyone wants to get to Amen Corner – the famed 11th, 12th and 13th holes that are tucked in the far reaches of the course. So they get there, by whatever means they can.
"I wanted her to see the back nine," Lewis said of Carolyn. "At least Amen Corner. That way she could appreciate it like I do."
This week, Carolyn made it and saw it and appreciated it, maybe more than ever because her father was at her side.
"Special," she said. "Just so, so special."
And whenever the terrain grew too tough or the grass too slick or the sun beat down too hot, someone jumped in and helped. Because for all the exclusivity of this place, for all the monuments to power and money, for all the millionaire golfers and the tense competition, this is still, somehow, a place of simple moments and shared love.
It's a daughter pushing her father the way he once pushed her mother.
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- Augusta National