One of my very best friends in the ministry was Sam Cathey. While I have had the privilege of meeting many notable preachers and personalities in the Southern Baptist Convention, only a very few had his charisma and preaching ability. He inspired me to devote a sufficient time to study in order to preach expository sermons. I met Sam in 1976 when I was the associate pastor of Tabernacle Baptist in Cartersville.
The pastor of Tabernacle at the time was Howard Merritt and he asked me one day if I had ever met Sam and I told him that I had not. He said that I was in for a real treat because Sam could “preach the stars down” and that he was a man with a dynamic personality. For some reason, Sam and I bonded immediately and we remained friends until his recent death. He came to Abilene Baptist on numerous occasions. Our people loved him.
Sam was an accomplished golfer. He loved the game and actually could have become a professional golfer earlier in his life, but God’s calling on his life was far more powerful than his love for golf. However, he did play as often as possible and one of his heart’s desires was to visit the Augusta National Golf Course. He once told me that he would love to ride down Magnolia Lane just one time. About 15 years ago Sam came to Abilene for one of his visits with us and we were sitting in my office talking about his desire to visit the Augusta National golf course.
While Sam was talking nonstop about golf, ministry, and hunting quail, I reached over and dialed a friend of mine who worked at the course. I said: “Brother, I have Sam Cathey with us this week and he has always wanted to see the course where the Masters is played.”
He responded, “You have Sam Cathey with you? I’ve always wanted to meet him, but never have had the chance.”
He instructed me to bring Sam to a certain gate at 4 p.m. that afternoon. I thanked him and hung up the phone. Sam was still talking. He had paid little attention to my brief conversation. I stopped him and said: “So, you want to visit the Augusta National Golf Course?” He quickly responded that he would love to ride down Magnolia Lane just once in his life. I told him that the person I had been talking to worked there and that at four o’clock he was going to get his wish. He jumped up out of his chair and became animated in this enthusiasm over the prospect of seeing the course.
At four o’clock that afternoon we arrived at the proper gate and in a matter of minutes my friend was there with a golf cart. He greeted Sam and then said: “Ok, let’s go see the course.” Sam was like a little a child experiencing a Christmas surprise. We jumped on the cart and took off across a large grassy parking lot. When we reached the front entrance to the Augusta National, he turned down Magnolia Lane.
I said, “Sam, do you realize where you are?”
He looked up and surveyed the situation and exclaimed loudly, “I’m on Magnolia Lane! Bill, I’m on Magnolia Lane!”
We rode down between those magnificent, ancient Magnolias and Sam was mesmerized by the experience. My friend took us over to the Par Three course and then proceeded over to the practice putting green. From there he took us to every hole on the Masters course. When we got to Hogan’s bridge, Sam was awed by the fact that he was walking across that famous bridge going to hole twelve in Amen Corner.
Every hole was like a fairy land to Sam. He couldn’t quit thanking the Lord that he had been given one of his heart’s desires. The talent it takes to play that great and notable course is evident when one sees it in person. Television, as great as it is, can’t begin to fully communicate the various features of the course at the Augusta National Golf Club.
To cap it all off my friend took us into the Clubhouse, which is a special privilege. We sat at Ike’s desk, which is a hallowed place in the clubhouse, and visited the trophy room. There is a special place where very few are privileged to go. It is the “crow’s nest,” the cupola on the top of the Augusta National clubhouse. This is the place where the amateur players stay and it is considered a high privilege to be able to stay up there.
The stairs up to that little room are very narrow. One can hardly negotiate them. I remember that the rafters were exposed and nothing was painted. The autographs of various players over the years are inscribed on the rafters. Some of those men went on to be very famous players and some became Masters Champions. Just to stand there and soak up the history and tradition was an awe-inspiring experience for Sam and me. I remember Sam purchasing something in the Pro Shop to commemorate his visit to the Augusta National Golf Club.
I have never seen anyone so thrilled and inspired as Sam Cathey when we were treated to that private tour of America’s most notable golf course. Several years later I was able to get Sam some tickets to attend The Masters. He fully enjoyed the entire week but he often told me that, as great as the tournament was, the day we toured the course was one of the high points of his life. I will never forget my friend, Sam Cathey, and the way he shouted that day when he realized he was fulfilling a life dream. “I’m on Magnolia Lane! Bill, I’m on Magnolia Lane!”