This is the time of year when Charles Gibbs starts seeing green again.
It’s not just the leaves on the trees or the grass in his yard. It has nothing to do with the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day or the color of money as the April 15 income tax deadline approaches.
It’s the beginning of Masters week, where the traditional green jacket is the most coveted thread in golf. Charles will stake out his usual spot behind the No. 2 green at Augusta National, just a chip shot from the Bubba Watsons and Jordan Spieths of the world.
He has seen hundreds of birdies and eagles there, not to mention a Tiger and Golden Bear. Between them, Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus own a closet full, with 10 green jackets, more than any two golfers alive.
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He also has spotted a snake-bit Shark on No. 2, which should be Greg Norman’s jersey number. The Australian golfer never won The Masters, finishing runner-up three times. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride.
Charles was a huge fan of the late Arnold Palmer — a gentleman’s gentleman — and has devoured enough famous Masters pimiento cheese to feed Arnie’s Army. The traditional sandwich, in those crinkly, green cellophane wrappers, is still a bargain at $1.50.
Charles is 78 years old, which is 6-over par in golf years. He has been attending The Masters since 1966, and has been calling the green, green bent-grass of the second hole his second home for more than four decades.
When the gates open, he rushes to put down his chairs — golf’s version of squatter’s rights — and can watch every golfer take on the par-5 hole. Its nickname is “Pink Dogwood.” At 575 yards, it is the longest on the course.
When the last group comes through in the afternoon, he usually walks over to Amen Corner before heading to the exits for the 140-mile trip home to Macon.
He was an eyewitness to history at No. 2 during the final round in 2012, when South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen holed his second shot with a 4-iron from 253 yards for a double eagle, the rarest shot in golf. It was one of only four double eagles in Masters history and the first-ever at that hole.
Charles and his wife, Sarah, had their own semi-brush with fame there a few years back, when the tournament still allowed patrons to bring umbrellas.
“Our chairs were right behind the pin that day, and I told Sarah that where we were sitting, they were going to be hitting balls into us all day long,” he said.
It didn’t happen until the final twosome came through. Tiger Woods hit his approach shot. The Gibbs were in the line of fire.
“The ball rolled between Sarah’s legs and stopped on my umbrella,” Charles said, laughing. “Tiger came over and handed my chair to me. He chipped the ball on the green and made a birdie on the hole.”
The next day, a photograph of Woods crouched over the ball, with his back to Charles and Sarah, appeared in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Charles purchased a color reprint and framed it. It hangs on a wall in his den, next to a framed collection of all his Masters badges since 1974.
Charles grew up in Bartow County, and graduated from Taylorsville High School 60 years ago this spring. He didn’t take up golf until he went to Berry College, which has the largest (27,000 acres) contiguous college campus in the world. (That’s enough to fit almost 75 Augusta National courses inside it.)
He is now retired after 45 years as a supervisor for the physical and environmental laboratory at Robins Air Force Base.
To use golf vernacular, it may have been a stroke of luck that he started his long run of Masters appearances in 1966. He was building a house in south Bibb County and asked the man installing the heating and air conditioning unit if he would cut him a deal.
“How about two tickets to the Masters?” the man offered.
“Sounds good enough to me,” said Charles.
That was the year Nicklaus became the first player to win back-to-back green jackets. Like most others, Charles had only seen the tournament on TV. It was first televised in 1956. But, in the early years, CBS used just six cameras and covered only the final four holes.
And not everyone had a color television in the mid-1960s, so Charles was awestruck at this pristine sanctuary of nature, where hardly a blade of grass was out of place. The azaleas were in full bloom. It was an arboretum of dogwoods, magnolias, tea olives and tall pines.
“I was amazed at the beauty,” he said. “I had never seen anything like it before. I started going every year after that. I managed to buy tickets from friends for a few years. Then I finally wrote The Masters and got on the list. It was a lot easier to get them back then.”
That’s for sure. The Masters is now one of the most coveted tickets in sports. You have to practically inherit them. People leave them in their wills to their next-of-kin.
He has only missed going once in the last 51 years. He had changed e-mail addresses and failed to notify the Masters ticket office, so he did not receive his renewal form.
“It about killed me to have to sit and watch it at home,” he said. “But I got it straight and got back on the list for the next year.”
He tries to accommodate family members who want to go. With 10 grandchildren, he sometimes must juggle the badge rotation.
Every year, he has a friendly bet with his 21-year-old granddaughter, Rikki Kahley.
“She picks three players she thinks will win, and I pick three,” he said. “The loser has to wash the winner’s car. She really follows golf. She knows all the players.”
Rikki’s favorites this year are Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler. Charles will be rooting for his favorite golfer, Phil Mickelson, along with Matt Kucher and Bubba Watson.
“I get excited when Masters Week come around,” he said. “I love it. The Masters has a mystique about it.”
Ed Grisamore teaches journalism and creative writing at Stratford Academy in Macon. His column appears on Sundays in The Telegraph.