The Masters inspires devotion in many, whether it is of legendary Amen Corner, the azaleas bursting forth with magnificent color, the inexpensive pimento cheese sandwiches, or of the players themselves. One such devotee is Steve Hale.

Friday’s round of tournament play will mark the Aiken resident’s 59th consecutive Masters. He hasn’t missed a Sunday since 1978.

That was the Sunday Gary Player shot a 65, overcoming a 7-stroke deficit to win the tournament by one stroke.

Hale remembers it like it was yesterday. In fact, he can remember many highlights of his years of Masters attendance.

“It is just the most first-rate event on earth,” he said.

Hale’s father first bought badges to the storied tournament in the 1950s for $25 a piece. The tournament didn’t draw nearly the number of patrons then as it does now, and the Augusta National was struggling financially, so the area Chamber of Commerce launched a badge-buying campaign, according to Hale.

The Hale family has since made The Masters a tradition.

“It’s as big as Christmas for my family,” he said.

The family likes to think of themselves as the “Make-A-Wish Masters Foundation.” They are often able to supply a person or two with badges whose lifelong wish it is to attend the tournament.

“When they come to the door to get the badges, they’re so excited,” Hale said. “We just love doing that.”

Sometimes it has a been a father-and-son pairing. Twice now, Hale has returned to Augusta National with a son to scatter the father’s ashes.

Palmetto Golf Club Pro Emeritus Tom Moore understands the fascination with the tournament.

“It’s almost a religious experience. It’s so special, the history and tradition. It’s like going into the Vatican instead of a local church,” he said.