From Nick Saban to Steve Spurrier, tales of college football coaches playing Augusta National

5:10 AM ET

  • Chris Lowe

Shut up. ESPN Senior Writer

    • University football journalist
    • Member of since 2007.
    • A graduate of the University of Tennessee…
  • Mark Schlubach

Shut up. ESPN Senior Writer

    • High school soccer writer
    • Author of seven books on college football.
    • A graduate of the University of Georgia

Even for some of the biggest names in college football, hardened competitors are accustomed to autumn glitter and Saturday’s adrenaline rush, the chance to play at August’s National Golf Club is nothing short of nirvana.

And they’ve survived everything from holes-in-one, to calls from US presidents, to Super Bowl quarterbacks, to the epic collapse of the last two holes, to encounters with Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus.

On Saturday, the two biggest sports traditions of August coincide with the live broadcast of ESPN’s College GameDay, built by The Home Depot.

A handful of university football trainers, including various icons – past and present – told their stories on the world’s most famous golf course.

Nick Saban

Alabama coach Nick Saban, who has six national championships to his name, has long preached about the importance of ending matches. But even Saban fell in love with his end five years ago, when he had the only chance to turn 80 on the August National.

Saban, who played on Alabama’s famous course almost every year, had just finished number 16 when his caddy looked at him and said if you’re going to do gods and gods on the next two holes, break 80.

Fault! The file name is not specified. Nick Saban was lucky to take the 80th place on the Augusta National. That didn’t happen. Pictures by Jeff Gross/Getty

The evil eye was fixed. Saban missed 17 times, then 18 times and finally 81 times.

I wanted to kill him. Saban was joking. … He was a good caddy. Without him, I’d never be in the position I was in.

Saban may not have a favorite hole in August, but he was Eagle 8.

I didn’t even see the green on the second picture and I asked the guys I was playing with where I could go, remembers Saban. They say: If you see the jaws sticking out, just hit them. So I hit a tree or something, and it was about six feet from the hole. It should be close, because I probably wouldn’t have made a putt. But there’s no catch if you bet on an eagle. At least not in August.

One of the most memorable experiences of the Saban at Augusta National has become bitter and sweet. Saban met the late Arnold Palmer there at a game a few years ago.

It was early in the morning and he stood on the first tee and remembered Saban. We had a few minutes to talk. He was great to meet him.

Fault! The file name is not specified. Even the biggest names in the world like Nick Saban won’t be photographed if they get the chance to play against Augusta National Poli Nick Saban.

A few months later King Saban offered his hand and invited him to play with him at Palmers Bay Hill, near Orlando.

I couldn’t do it because of my schedule, and it’s probably one of the biggest regrets of my life, Saban said quietly.

Palmer, one of the most venerated figures in golf, died in 2016.

The only time Saban attended the Masters was in 2002, when he was studying at the LSU and took his son Nikolai with him. They visited the former LSU golfer David Toms, who won the PGA championship a year earlier. Toms was honoured on the field before the USL match and was on the sidelines with the team.

David said he was more looking forward to getting out of the Tigris Stadium tunnel than winning the PGA Tour, Saban said. We wanted to visit her, and I remember being amazed at Augusta’s beauty. It’s almost like time travel.

Mac Brown

When Mac Brown was training in Texas, a good friend promised to take him and NFL quarterbacks Eli and Peyton Manning to a game against Augusta National with a caveat.


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Brown had to win the national championship, or one of the Manning brothers had to win the Super Bowl title before he could leave.

In 2005 Brown ended a 35-year drought at Longhorns without a national title when the two-time RSC national champion in the Pink Cup 41-38 lost to the two-time RSC national champion defender.

That spring Brown and the Manning brothers played at Augusta National Golf Club.

The next season, Peyton Manning won his first NFL title, causing the Indianapolis Colts to beat the Chicago Bears in the XLI Super Bowl 29-17.

In 2007 Eli Manning led the New York Giants and took down the New England Patriots 17-14 in the XLII Super Bowl.

Brown and Mannings were invited to play Augusta National three years in a row. (Peyton Manning is now a member of August National)

It’s incredible, says Brown, who is currently training in North Carolina. I mean, it was just one of the things we laughed at every year. You’re joking, right? And then, of course, after the third, [Hahn] said: Okay, now we can start over.

Brown said he had never attended the Masters as a sponsor, but watched the tournament on television every year. His mother and younger brother have already participated in training competitions.

I think when people talk about the Yankee Stadium, I think the same thing happens at National August, Brown said. They talk about the most emblematic places in the world. When I played for the first time and made it into the top three, I was shaking just because it was August. We’ve had so many great times, and the best golfers in the world are competing against each other. It’s just an honor to play it.

Steve Spurrier

Just as he remembers almost every playing challenge, every distance and every end result of his playing and coaching days, Steve Sperrier remembers most of the shots he fired at Augusta National.

Especially the good ones.

I first played there when I was with Pepper Rogers in Georgia Tech in 1979. Shooting 78 that day, Mr. Sperrier said. I was playing decent back then.

Fault! The file name is not specified. Steve Surrier remembers all the shots he fired at Augusta National. Stan Badz/PGA TOUR

Spurrie, who is known to raise the score sometimes, said he was lucky to play one day with Augusta because he didn’t raise the score. During training in Florida, the Sperrier Alligators defeated Arkansas 34-3 in a championship game in 1995. Sperrier said that Frank Broyles, then athletic director of Arkansas and former legendary coach of the Hogs, called and invited Sperrier to play. Broyles, who died in 2017 at the age of 92, was a member in August.

We went ahead and around 28:3… and then we took the lead at 34:3, and they almost ran out of hours. We ended the clock with them, Mr. Sperrier said. That’s what Coach Broyles said: Steve, because I’m so nice to us and I’m not trying to raise the score, I’d like to invite you in August and you can bring two of your friends. I said: Thanks, coach. We will, and we did.

They played it next spring, and they had enough time to play nine more holes after 18 hours of play.

Let me tell you that Coach Broyles shot 35 times [for 9 holes] and said I might have to finish. Today, at my age, I can shoot, think of Sperrier. But we all had a plane to catch this afternoon, so we left.

Spurrier hit two sets at 80 in Augusta, but he is also proud of his 81 strokes at the end of his coaching career in South Carolina at the age of 70.


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Yes, he had nine couples and nine gods, Sperrier said, who played with Augusta about every year, he was in South Carolina as a guest of the late Hootie Johnson, who played soccer for the House Roosters and was a former Augusta national president.

Sperrier’s not sure if he has a favorite hole in August.

I’m trying to figure out which one I gave birth to the last time he knocked.

And we can’t talk about the month of August without his head coach raising his 2008 Hole-in-One, albeit with caution.

When I tell people I made a hole, they say: Really? And I say: Yeah, hole number seven, and they say: Wait a minute, it’s steam four, and I’ll say: Not for pair 3, the twittering of the locks.

Municipality of Mayer

Urban Meyer received two memorable phone calls after bringing Florida to his second national alligator championship in 2008.

One of them comes from future president Barack Obama and the other from Fred Ridley, who played golf in Florida and later became president of the Augusta National Golf Club.

Fault! The file name is not specified. If you stick one at the Augusta National, like Urban Meyer did, take a picture. Experienced urban Meyer

It was really great to get a call from President Obama, and then I got a call from the great Fred Ridley, who said I’ll bring you in August, Meyer remembers. I tell people they were two great phone calls, and I won’t tell them which one I thought was better.

Meyer, who describes Augusta National as one of my favourite places on the planet, has played on this iconic field four times in his life, the first time in spring 2002 when he was head coach of Bowling Green. Meyer was invited by Lou Holtz, a member of August National and Meyer’s patron when he was assistant to Notre Dame.

It was two weeks before the tournament, and Jim Nantz drove his golf cart, Mayer said. I tell people this story, but you can’t paint a better picture.

Meyer’s best result in Augusta was 80, and he remembers firing his three-point shot about two yards from the steamboat 3 hole 12 to hit a bird. He can’t say the same about a hole closing.

That [18th] hole has always crushed me, said Meyer, who won two national championships in Florida and a third national title in Ohio. Heavy hole. The road, and then the second shot… They’re 200 yards away. I like this hole, but it hasn’t been good for me.

Meyer and his son Nate have a tradition of watching the Masters’ Sunday Tour together, a tradition that has been handed down since Meyer’s childhood, when he and his late father Bud did the same.

When Nate grew up, it was one of our rules, Mayer said. Wherever we were, we’d watch the Masters together on Sunday. I choked a little when I first drove on Magnolia Lane, thinking about all those Sundays with my father when I watched the Masters.

If someone said you had another place, I’d say: Augusta.

Bob stops

Former Oklahoma van Stupps has fortunately played at Augusta National more times than he can count, but he can’t get his head out of his head when he first walked into the iconic azaleas and dogwoods.

It was around 2005 or 2006, says Stoops, and he remembers leaving the second hole as if he had just won a national championship.

I hit the third shot on the hill on par 5 and hit the bunker on the right, Stoops said. So I take out my sand wedge, I shoot a shot in the sand and it rolls into the hole behind the bird.

I looked at my Caddy, smiled and said it’s not that hard.

Stop was clearly a joke and would soon have experienced the real teeth of the course – the greens. He said his best result in August was 84, and as long as you don’t play on the court you can’t feel the severity of the green.

If you go against the current, you can’t hit hard enough, and if you’re with the grain down, you can’t stop it, according to Stopps. T to the green, that’s very manageable, but if you’re not in the right third of the green, you can be within 100 meters. The most important thing is to listen to the caddy. These guys are unbelievable. If you listen to them, you begin to understand.

Stuops has played with everyone from his brother Mike to Oklahoma’s athletic director Joe Castiglione and country music superstar Toby Keith. And for several years in a row, Stuops and the Oklahoma contingent faced Gary Patterson and the TCU contingent in a two-day trip in August that included a series of Horses 3.

Every time you leave, it gets better. There is no other place like this, said Stoops, adding that his dearest memory of August is the time he met Arnold Palmer.

The Stops saw Palmer at a game on the next fairway. Later, at lunch, Palmer approached the break table.

All the members of our group stood up and said good morning, Mr. Palmer, remember the stops. He looked at me and said I looked familiar. I introduced myself and told him I was the head coach of Oklahoma. He couldn’t have been better. What a pleasure!

David Shaw

It’s a game of golf Stanford coach David Shaw will always cherish.

Shaw, who is recognized as a junior golfer, was able to play against Augusta National in 2014 with his father Willie, his younger brother Eric and Augusta alumnus and Stanford graduate Tom Nelson. At that time, Eric was being treated for a rare and aggressive skin cancer and four years later, David needed a beautiful bone marrow transplant to save his brother’s life.

We didn’t even count. It was my father’s idea, Shaw said. My dad’s a golfer in the family. He plays people my age and takes money from them all the time. But that day, he said: Here we are in August. I play with my two sons. Let’s take advantage of the situation.

This memory will be with us forever.

Fault! The file name is not specified. David Shaw doesn’t play much golf, but this trip with his family will always be special. Thanks to David Shaw.

Shaw jokes that the memories he can spare are the target of the shooting downstairs.

Everyone’s talking about the first target and how scary it was, Shaw remembers. And here I am, I’m not a golfer, and I think..: You can’t intimidate me. I’m not even playing, so never mind.

Eric was the first to strike, didn’t strike exactly the blow he wanted, and warned his brother, man, you’re getting restless.

Shaw, still brave enough, picked it up and hit, like he said, the most disgusting room you’ve ever seen.

I mean, it’s just awful, and then my dad comes up there and, bam, right in the middle of it, and he starts walking, Shaw laughs. So, yeah, the first tee shot is real because you’re playing on sacred ground. He’s got me.

One of the things he’s most proud of on Shaw’s tours: He turned him into a real son of a bitch.

It was a play, and I thought Secret Service police would come out of the trees and get me out of camp, Shaw was joking.

Shaw’s second favorite memory of the day is meeting Jack Niklaus at dinner.

It was like you were in his house and he felt like he had to take you in, Shaw said. It was the coolest. We’ll sit over there and talk to Jack Nicklaus from August National.

Shaw soon realised that he hadn’t called his classmate and five-time Stanford Masters winner Tiger Woods to give him his lap report. When they were at Stanford school, they had a common Portuguese lesson and kept in touch.

I’m ashamed to bring my golf game near Tiger Woods, jokes Shaw, who once got one of Woods’ green jackets as a gift.

Woods spoke with the Stanford team for the UCF match in Orlando last year and brought one of his green jackets.

He put it on me, so I wore a green jacket for about 45 seconds, Shaw said. It was surreal.

Will Mushroom

South Carolina coach Will Mushamp grew up in Rome, Georgia, and his grandfather and father attended the Masters almost every year as a child.

When the Auburn Booster 2015 invited Mushamp to play with Auburn coach Gus Malzan at Augusta National, Mushamp, then Tigers defense coordinator, couldn’t refuse the invitation – even though he’s not such a good golfer.

I knew the other guys were good players, Mushamp said. I was going to take two lessons so I wouldn’t embarrass myself.

The end result? Mushamp escaped the three-digit number on the famous course and shot the 98 with battles on the last three holes.

I was very nervous on the first hole, Mushamp said. But I had a great ride. It was a very memorable moment at the first target.

The night before his turn, Mushamp spent the night in one of the station’s cabins watching the highlights of the last Masters tournaments on television.

I stayed up all night to watch the Masters and remembered that on Sunday I was sitting on the back porch with my father and brother, he said. It brought back so many memories of attending one of the biggest, if not the biggest, sporting events in the world.

Mushamp visited the masters on several occasions. This happened for the first time in 1996, when Greg Norman became famous by defeating Nick Faldo in the last Six Shots game. Mushamp remembers the collective sigh from the stands as Norman’s target, shot at number 12, rolled into Flight Creek and passed Faldo with two shots.

It was quite surprising to hear the crowd make that noise together, Mushamp said. It’s something I’ll never forget.

Frank Beamer

A former coach from Virginia, Tech Frank Beamer, a passionate golfer, believes he will play from the 15th to the 20th century. August at the National Golf Club.

I think I had some good friends, Beamer said.

Fault! The file name is not specified. Frank Beamer took a moment to watch Augusta National. Polite, Frank Beamer.

The low point of the beer tour in August is 89. One of his most memorable tricks was when his son Shane, now assistant head coach of Storm and Tight Endings in Oklahoma, shot a tie on a cult field.

Well, something like that.

A Spring-Beemer and his son were invited into the field, and that day the weather forecast was bad.

So the club member offered to play every 10. par-4 to start the 18th hole and then go to the club for lunch in bad weather.

On the 10th Shane Beamer managed to make four, then the sky opened.

They never got back on course that day.

My mom and dad want to tell everyone that I even toured as much as I did in Augusta, says Shane Beamer.

As they did not complete the round, the candidate invited Shane Beamer and then Alabama Defense Coordinator Kirby Smart to return next spring. They started with number one. Beamer couldn’t control his nerves and cut his shot in three on the ninth fairway. The spotlight then made a second shot and somehow hit the trees and greenery. He walked 30 feet to save a few.

More than a year later, he was still at Augusta National.

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