Why Jim Nantz is so fond of this Augusta hangout (and not just because it’s open late)
The days get long, when you’re covering the Masters. That’s not a complaint. But you do need to know which of the greater Augusta restaurants serve late, and I do. I wouldn’t call it a skill set.
One of the most reliable of the late-night Augusta restaurants is the French Market Grille West on Furys Ferry Road, about four miles from the golf course. I first started going there years ago, when the late Frank Chirkinian, the legendary CBS golf producer, still owned the place. I’ve been there dozens of times.
On Thursday, I wrote Tiger, filed too late, got in the car, made a left on Washington Road, a right on Furys Ferry and slipped on in to the restaurant at about 9:40 p.m., 20 minutes before the kitchen’s last call. I sat down and gave Ashley my dinner request about 90 seconds later. As it happened, Jim Nantz was two booths down.
Whenever I see Jim, which is at least several times a year, somewhere in our conversation we usually mention Chirkinian, Chirkinian’s deputy Chuck Will and various others we know/knew, love/loved, admire/admired. There’s something about Masters week — and for me there’s something about the French Market Grille — that makes you nod to the past while you are absorbed by the present and consider the future.
For instance, in that last category: What will the green coats do with 13, the greatest par-5 in golf — except in still conditions it’s not really a par-5 anymore?
You don’t have to apologize for being consumed with that sort of thing, come Masters week. You can wait for the loo at the French Market Grille and have that discussion with the stranger waiting in front of you.
These French Market Grille meals from long ago come to mind with a blink of the eye:
A late dinner there with my friend Jaime Diaz, after which we retired to a grass field beside the parking lot, where we hit wedge shots under the moonlight and discussed the state of the game and the states of our lives until 3:30 in the morning.
A dinner with a group of SI writers, hosted by Terry McDonell, our editor, who told us in the future we should expect to write for . . . the internet.
An early dinner with my friend Mike Donald, the former Tour player, during the second round of the 2013 Masters and watching when Tiger Woods’ third shot on 15 hit the flagstick, ricocheting off it and into the lake.
Dinners by myself (many of them), with other writers (many of them), with my friend Neil Oxman, the veteran caddie.
On his way out Thursday night, I said hi to Nantz, who introduced me to his dinner companions, his sister and brother-in-law.
We talked about Chirkinian and Chuck Will and various others. Jim drove Jack Whitaker to Chuck Will’s funeral, a half-decade ago, and they both spoke beautifully about him.
I’ve written this many times but mentioned it the other night to the Nantz party: Chirkinian used to describe the Masters as a play in three acts: Thursday-Friday as Act I, Saturday as Act II, Sunday as Act III, the course as the stage, the leaders as the protagonists.
Jim knew this whole bit, of course. The other two maybe did not.
“Frank studied theater,” Jim offered, relevantly.
“I once asked Chuck to describe Frank’s golf game,” I said. Jim and I are the same age.
Chuck and Frank logged a lot of rounds together. Chuck had game. Frank had enthusiasm and a slice.
“’Driver in the rough, Ginty out of it,’” I said, quoting Chuck.
Jim laughed. He knows all about Frank’s golf game, and all about the Ginty.
We were in Augusta, or on its outskirts, anyway.
We were in Frank’s old restaurant.