AUGUSTA, Ga. — There was a deer at the Masters once.
I know ledes are important in journalism. They suck you in, get you invested, nudge you to keep going. But I had to tell you straight away.
Oh, big deal, a deer at the Masters. Wrong! It was actually quite a scene. Have you seen the gates surrounding this place? White Walkers wouldn’t stand a chance. Yet a deer? This one was Houdini-like. And remember, deer can cause havoc on golf courses. Do you want hoofprints mucking up Amen Corner? I didn’t think so.
Anyway, I stumbled upon this story, from 2011, of a deer making Augusta National Golf Club its Yosemite.
According to deer lore, the deer was spotted on Wednesday of the 2011 Masters. The Augusta Chronicle ran a picture of it, which might be the only photo that exists. In the frame: six patrons and the aforementioned deer. Four of the patrons appear shocked (understandable); two look confused (also defensible). The deer was expressionless. See for yourself:
The deer reportedly entered Augusta National near the 1st hole, and chaos ensued. It was running! Naked! Badge-less! It was an unprecedented breach of Masters etiquette. The deer sprinted across the 1st and 9th fairways until it caught up with Phil Mickelson’s group on 8 — Phil’s always a big draw — before it scampered east and exited near the 5th hole. The deer, through its representatives, could not be reached for comment. A longtime gallery guard told patrons he’d never seen anything like it.
Deer management is apparently a big issue in Georgia. According to a 2015 article from North American Whitetail Magazine, Georgia is the worst deer state to live in, with more than 1.2 million deer roaming free. This has damning ramifications on agriculture production and gardens (and golf courses!). Oh dear!
Hungry for more details, I sent an email to a longtime gallery guard on No. 1… and got no response. So, on Tuesday afternoon, fresh off a flight into Atlanta and an Alamo rental car down I-20 to Augusta, I slipped on my rain boots and went looking for answers.
I spoke to three gallery guards who would have been near the Deer In Question. I was blunt: “This is going to be the dumbest thing anyone has asked you all day,” I said.
“Nope,” one deadpanned, before resting with a long pause. “It will not be.”
I asked if they had seen a deer in their years here. There isn’t much turnover among guards from year to year. Maybe they knew something about Deergate 2011. One said he hadn’t. Another said he thought he heard of it. The other said he was probably napping.
Confused, I strolled a few hundred yards away and met another guard. I looked at him endearingly before asking, “Ever seen a deer here?”
“Oh, yeah,” he said. Jackpot. Then we chatted like college pals. He’d been here for more than a decade. He told me where it entered and where it ran off. (It’s our deer!) He also said he once witnessed a dog snatch a player’s ball. He admitted, though, that he understands why it’s best to keep the fences up and deer out. They can cause a lot of damage on a golf course, he reiterated. Our dear friend from 2011, the lone deer of the Masters, remains a legend.
“I don’t know how it got in here,” the guard said, before putting his hand over his mouth and leaning in to whisper. “But I don’t think it was here long.”
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