As a gentle rain fell at Augusta National Golf Club, Carl Antolini Jr. surveyed the green grass, the soaring loblolly pines and the masses of people. Tears mixed with the rain running down his cheeks.
Antolini's emotional visit to the Masters Tournament marked a return to Augusta 55 years after he briefly lived in the Garden City.
The Elkins native received military police training at Fort Gordon in 1958.
Photo courtesy of Jeff Janowski/Augusta Chronicle
Carl Antolini Jr., left, of Elkins, received Masters Tournament tickets from his son Butch, right, for Christmas. He was stationed at Fort Gordon in 1958 and has not been in Augusta since.
"Almost heaven," Antolini said about stepping onto the hallowed ground for the first time last Friday morning, too overwhelmed to muster more words.
When Antolini, 74, trained at Fort Gordon, he left the military post only one time in eight weeks. He knew very little about Augusta except that it was the site of the Masters.
Antolini's eldest son, Butch Antolini, surprised his dad with tickets on Christmas, a morning equally emotional to Friday's visit.
"I know what golf means to him," Butch Antolini said. "I figured he was never coming back to Augusta."
After his Fort Gordon stint, Antolini worked at Killeen Base, a top-secret atomic weapons storage facility near Fort Hood, Texas.
In 1961, he returned to Elkins and worked 37 years for the West Virginia Division of Highways before retiring 12 years ago.
A badge holder from Aiken who recently retired in Beckley, where Antolini's son lives, made the trip possible and fulfilled a dream Antolini had for a half-century.
"I'd like to play here one time," Antolini said. "It's remarkable to see this many people."
The father and son were anxious to see the storied holes of Augusta National's Amen Corner. They planned to walk every hole by the end of the day.
"I may never be back," Antolini said through tears.