VIRG FOSS: Where the greats play
When you write about sports as I have for more than 40 years, the games take you around the country to many great stadiums, rinks, fields.
I've seen pro football at the Polo Grounds in New York. I've covered the Stanley Cup finals in Dallas. I've been to Chicago to watch my favorite baseball team, the White Sox, play. I've been in the stands to see the Twins in the 1965 World Series.
Rarely does a writer have a chance to actually compete and play in those same facilities.
But in the 1970s, a call came to me that allowed me to do just that.
The call came from Paul Bridston, a neighbor a few doors removed in Grand Forks.
Bridston was a financial heavyweight in Grand Forks back then, running a financial institution and later an insurance business.
Where I came to know him was through mutual friend Bob Bustin, from a few neighborhood parties and on occasional meetings on the golf course. I knew him as well from his substantial contributions to UND hockey, including the statue of a player that still adorns the present Ralph Engelstad Arena.
Bridston was a Yale graduate and captain of the golf team there. As his fortune in life grew, he became a member of Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Ga., site of the famous Masters Tournament since 1934.
As a member, Bridston was permitted to invite guests to join him to play some golf.
In the early 1970s, Bridston invited Ron Absey, Jerry Knutson and myself to join him in Georgia to play the famed course, two weeks or so before the start of the Masters.
Let's be upfront about this. None of us were golfers in the class of Bridston. I might have been the worst of the four.
But a chance to play Augusta National? Put me in coach. I'm ready to play, today.
The golf courses of North Dakota were covered by snow when we flew to Georgia to live a golfer's dream and play on this fabled course. I don't think any of us had swung a club since the previous fall, but we didn't care. This was a once-in-a-lifetime chance.
Not only that, we stayed in the Eisenhower cottage, right on the course. I went there as a duffer, but lived like a king.
We stayed three days, played 18 holes a day, plus nine more on the par-3 course.
Our caddies were the same ones we saw on TV a few weeks later caddying for the pros in the Masters.
I remember one shot from the entire time. It was a winding, curving uphill putt of about 80 feet. My caddy stood far to the right of the hole as I looked up. He told me to aim for his left foot and hit the putt as hard as I could, or else it would roll right back to where I was standing.
I swung hard and watched. Time stood still. Then my caddy yelled something like 'Oh, my God' and raced to the hole to pull the flag. My ball followed him, and dropped cleanly into the cup. Hallelujah!!! A double bogey on my scorecard, but a hole-in-one in my heart.
My caddy said it was the first time he'd seen anyone make a putt from there. And that I made him a lot of money on side bets he had with the other caddies on that putt.
I read in the Herald the other day of the death of Paul Bridston. My mind flashed back to how he gave so many of us over the years the opportunity to play a few rounds with him at Augusta National.
I think of his contributions to UND hockey, too. Every night I walk around Engelstad Arena, I see the statue he donated and I think of Paul Bridston.
It's honorable and right to step back and recognize those who contributed richly to our lives and certainly in his case, his home city of Grand Forks as well.
He created a moment in time I'll never forget. Because of that I will never forget Paul Bridston.
Virg Foss reported on sports for 36 years for the Grand Forks Herald until his retirement. He writes a weekly column exclusively for the Herald from October through April. Reach him at (701) 772-9272 or firstname.lastname@example.org.