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Masters memories: Former North Augusta mayor Lark Jones watching 'Amen Corner' from afar

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He has the names down pat – from Horton Smith to Dustin Johnson, with dozens of other golfing greats between the two. He also has a firm grip on the rules – no cell phones and no autograph-seeking on the course, please – but one thing Lark Jones does not have this year is access to the South's most famous golf course, where worldwide greats are spending this week in pursuit of history and a nice paycheck.

Jones, largely known as a longtime North Augusta mayor, got his first ticket to the Masters Tournament in 1964 and was on the premises every year until 2020, when COVID-19 precautions kept almost all would-be spectators away, reducing the viewers to workers, family members and the golfers themselves.

This year, some patrons have been invited back, but pandemic precautions are still in effect, and Jones, an attorney and golf enthusiast, is among thousands of regular patrons who find themselves on the outside looking in, while top-notch competitors such as as Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas are aiming for a new green jacket to wear late Sunday afternoon. 

Jones still, however, has decades of memories, and shared some in a January interview from this year, recorded on DVD, with Jones sharing about 50 minutes of insight on highs and lows from observing the game's greatest players and the traditions that have arisen since Bobby Jones laid the Masters foundation in the early 1930s. 

High on Lark Jones' list of favorite moments, he said, was the 1986 tournament, when Jack Nicklaus, at age 46, won his sixth green jacket, shooting a 30 on Sunday's final nine holes to finish ahead of both Greg Norman and Tom Kite by a single stroke. The 2019 tournament was similar, he said, in terms of having Tiger Woods, at 44, reclaiming the title – his fifth at the Masters – and ending a long dry spell by edging Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Xander Schauffele, all by a single stroke.

Jones, several decades earlier, came eye to eye with Masters champs Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Doug Ford and Jack Burke Jr. (now, at age 98, the oldest living Masters winner), as well as top-flight competitors Dow Finsterwald, Lionel Hebert and Jerry Barber. At the time, the future North Augusta mayor was a 10-year-old autograph seeker, and the only piece of paper he had at hand was a spelling test (with an "A" grade, he noted), so that relatively small school item is now among Jones' favorite pieces of Masters memorabilia.

Some souvenirs are kept behind glass. "I have been to the Masters on all these tickets except for the first two," he said, showing a collection of Masters badges reaching from 1962 to 2020. His 2020 badge, however, shows the tournament's dates as April 9-12 – not reflecting reality, since pandemic precautions resulted in the huge event being postponed to Nov. 12-15. 

"I got my first ticket in '64, but this past Masters wasn't too difficult, because I couldn't go but nobody else could go – just family members and workers. This year's going to be a little more difficult for me, because I've gone all these years, and there will be ticket-holders out there who've got tickets and are able to go."

He also touched on the topic of patience – possibly a familiar concept for many golf enthusiasts who have spent years waiting hopefully for the chance to see golf's greatest players in action within a tee shot's distance of Washington Road.

"I waited 18 years on the waiting list before I got tickets, and then I've gotten tickets every year since 1992, so that's almost 30 years I've been going, and to have not gotten tickets this year, it's going to be more difficult to see others out there, and with my love of it, and as many times as I've gone, I feel like I've earned the right to be there, and it's going to be difficult." 

Jones has steered clear of the tournament voluntarily only one day since 1992. That was on the final Sunday of 2019's tournament, with play starting at 7 a.m., following a long Saturday for Jones. "My arthritis was killing me, and with Tiger Woods, I said, 'I'm not going to be able to see a thing,' and so I stayed home and watched it on TV."

About nine months later, the pandemic rolled in and the sporting world largely came grinding to a halt, resulting in the 2020 tournament being postponed from April to November.  

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