"I'm On Magnolia Lane!"
One of my very best friends in the ministry was Sam Cathey. While I have had the privilege of meeting many people over the years that were notable preachers and personalities in the Southern Baptist Convention, only a very few had the charisma and preaching abilities of Sam Cathey. He is the one who inspired me to devote the proper amount of time and study in order to be able to preach expository sermons. I met Sam in 1976 while I was the Associate Pastor of Tabernacle Baptist in Cartersville. I had just come from the seminary and I was as green as a gourd. My only advantage over some others is that I was a little older having gone to college at age 26 and then to the seminary when I was 31 years old. The pastor of Tabernacle at the time was a man named Howard Merritt. He had invited Brother Sam to Tabernacle for a revival and he asked me one day if I had ever met Sam to which I replied 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 quite a personality as well. How right he was! For some reason, Sam and I had an immediate bonding which lasted until his recent death. He came to Abilene Baptist on five or six occasions and our people loved Sam Cathey. He was a favorite of the Abilene people. We will never forget Sam Cathey.
Sam was an accomplished golfer. He loved the game and actually could have gone pro 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 much as possible and one of his heart's desires was to visit the Augusta National Golf Course in Augusta. He once told me that he would love to ride down Magnolia Lane just one time. Well, sometime around the year 2000, Sam came to Abilene for one of his many visits with us and we were sitting in my office talking about his desire to visit the Masters golf course. While Sam was going on and on nonstop about golf and ministry and hunting quail, I reached over and dialed a friend of mine who worked at the course. I said: "Brother, I have Sam Cather with us this week and he has always wanted to see the course where the Masters is played." Immediately, he said: "You have Sam Cathey with you???" "I've always wanted to meet him and never have had the chance." Then he instructed me to being Sam to a certain gate at 4 p.m. that afternoon. I thanked him and hung up the phone. Sam was still talking, talking, talking. He had paid little attention to my very brief conversation with my friend. I stopped him and said: "So, you want to visit the Masters 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 with worked there and that that afternoon at four o'clock he was going to get his wish. He jumped up out of his chair and in a very animated, Sam Cathey way said: "WHAT"! I told him again and he almost went into orbit.
At four o'clock that afternoon we arrived at the proper gate and a guard who was expecting us told us where to park. He informed us that my friend would pick us up in a few minutes with a golf cart to take us over the course. Sure enough, in only a couple of minutes here he came. He greeted Sam and then said: "Ok, lets go see the course." Sam was like a little child experiencing a wonderful 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. Sam was looking around so hard he missed where he was. He was rattling on and on about something concerning golf when I said: "Sam, do you realize where you are?" He suddenly looked up and surveyed the situation whereupon he exclaimed loudly....."I'm on Magnolia Lane!" "Bill, I'm on Magnolia Lane!!" We rode down between those magnificent, ancient Magnolias with Sam's eyes as big as saucers. 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 talking and thanking the Lord that he had been given one of his heart's desires, visiting the famous golf course where the Masters is played. He couldn't believe how beautiful the course is and the size of the moguls on the fairways defied description to him. 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 describe the various features of the Masters course at Augusta National Golf Club.
To cap it all off and make it more than a perfect day for Sam and me, 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. The trophy room is awesome as is every other feature of that very famous clubhouse. There is a special place to which 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 both Sam and me. It was also a great experience to go to the Pro Shop where Sam purchased something by which to remember his trip to the Augusta National Golf Club course.
I have never seen anyone so thrilled and inspired as was Sam Cathey when we were treated to a private tour of the Augusta National Golf Club. Several years later I was able to get Sam some tickets to attend the greatest golf tournament in the world, The Masters. He and a friend came and stayed at Clark's Hill Lake in a house owned by one of our Abilene members. He fully enjoyed the entire week but he has often told me that, as great at 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!!"
William F. Harrell