Clemson's Swinney recalls run-in with guard, time playing at Augusta National
Each year, college football coaches from across the country are invited by Augusta National Golf Club members to play the famed course. As for Dabo Swinney, well, the Clemson coach nearly got blacklisted before ever making it to No. 1 tee box.
In 1996, after being a graduate assistant at Alabama for three years, Swinney was promoted to wide receivers coach for the Crimson Tide. Along with his new title, Swinney was also assigned recruiting territories throughout the Southeast.
“It just so happened that my area in Georgia was from Augusta down to Savannah,” Swinney said. “So in May of 1996, I flew to Augusta because there were a bunch of prospects in that area.”
It was Swinney’s first visit to Richmond County and he immediately checked into a hotel on Riverwalk Augusta. The next morning, unfamiliar with Augusta, the newly-promoted assistant coach aimlessly toured the area before stumbling upon Washington Road.
“Back then you didn’t have GPS devices or anything like that,” Swinney said. “So I’m driving around Augusta and all-the-sudden I look over and, boom, there’s Augusta National. I couldn’t believe it – I literally just stumbled across it. So I called my brother and said, ‘You won’t believe this, but I’m looking at Augusta National!’ ”
Swinney, a longtime fan of the Masters Tournament, turned on Magnolia Lane, drove past the security guard gate, and headed toward the clubhouse.
“This is how naive I was,” said Swinney, laughing. “I decide to go check the place out. In my mind, I knew I couldn’t play, but I was going in to take some pictures. So I’m cruising down Magnolia Lane and then I look in my rearview mirror.”
Chasing behind Swinney’s car was a security guard, waving his arms, pleading for the coach to stop.
“So I stop and he says, ‘What in the world are you doing?’ I say, ‘I’m just coming to take a few pictures.’ He said, ‘No, no, no, I don’t think so.’ ”
Thirteen years later, Swinney was invited to play Augusta National, and again drove toward Magnolia Lane. This time, he stopped before turning right.
“I pulled up to that very same guard gate and the man said, ‘Hey there, come on in!’ ” Swinney remembered. “I thought, ‘Boy, I’ve come a long way since being chased out of here.’ ”
According to Swinney, he has been invited to play Augusta National almost every year since becoming Clemson’s head coach in 2009. He has a tee time scheduled for later this month.
“I don’t really start playing golf until March or early-April because of spring practice,” Swinney said. “One time my very first round of the year was Augusta National. Not what I would recommend. You know, I hit it decent that day, but the deal with Augusta is putting. I shot 95 and had no less than eight three-putts.”
Swinney typically shoots in the low-90s at Augusta National, but made it clear he doesn’t lose sleep over the final number.
“You really don’t worry about your score at Augusta,” Swinney said. “Wherever the ball goes, I just put my hands in my pocket and think about how fortunate I am to be out here.”