The Masters – Augusta, GA
If you’re looking for the story of how hometown hero and Georgia Bulldog, Bubba Watson captured his first green jacket, or how South African Louis Oosthouizan went from a double-eagle to losing The Masters with a bogey in a playoff hole all in one day, you won’t find that here (You can, however, find that HERE, HERE, and HERE). Because as anyone who’s ever gone to a golf tournament knows, if you want to see all of the great shots of the day, you’re better off staying home and watching it on your high definition TV.
Because when you’re a part of a golf gallery, you really only have a few options: stay in one spot and watch everyone play through that hole(s), follow a particular grouping around through their entire round, or jump around the course seeing a bit here and a bit there, stopping and watching a bit before moving on to a different spot. There’s no possible way that you could see everything. You try to find some of your favorite players, crowd around the green and hopefully be able to see a made putt, or just hope that someone hits it in the rough near you. Other than that, you walk a lot, and try to take in your surroundings and hopefully the beauty of the course.
Lucky for us, we chose one of the most beautiful courses in the world.
Augusta National Golf Club was founded by Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts and designed by famous course designer Alister MacKenzie on the site of a former indigo plantation. The club opened for play in January 1933, and since 1934 it has played host to the annual Masters Tournament, one of the four major championships in professional golf, and the only major played each year at the same course. The first “Augusta National Invitational” Tournament, as the Masters was originally known, began on March 22, 1934, and was won by Horton Smith. “The Masters” name was adopted in 1939, and gained fame throughout the years primarily due to the continuity of the tournament being at the same course each year, as well as being dominated by great players such as Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson, Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, and Jack Nicklaus.
Because the same course is played every year, even people who have never been to the Masters know things about this revered course. We all know about Amen Corner (2nd shot on 11 through the tee shot on 13), we all know that going over on most holes is practically an automatic bogey, and we all know where the pin placements will be on Sunday. We know that you can go for the green in 2 on most of the par 5s, and that getting anywhere on the green usually means that you’re in birdie range. We know the names to many of Augusta National’s inanimate objects, like Butler Cabin, Hogan Bridge, and Rae’s Creek. We all know that the winner of The Masters gets a green jacket, as well as a lifetime membership into the club and entry into the tournament for life.
We also already know about the beauty, or at least what people who are actually there say about it as you watch on TV. The green-ness of the grass, the towering Georgia pine trees, and of course, the azaleas. When you’re there live and in person, it’s an interesting feeling. You’ve seen everything before, but you have no idea where everything is, or how it’s all laid out. Once you get your bearings, and see something that you recognize (in our case, the 18th green and fairway in the background), you can finally take in all of your surroundings at once, and realize just how VIVID it has all become. You see things like the 16th hole and 15th green, and it’s like deja vu all over again, except that you’re experiencing a whole new side of it.
But what is even more eye-opening when you’re in Augusta, is just how much Augusta National resides inside of a bubble. Just outside the gates and down Washington Ave. is every fast food chain imaginable, strip malls galore, and the best looking restaurant with a sign out front that reads “voted best steak in Augusta 25 years running,” unappealingly named “T-Bonez”. So yeah, basically like plenty of other areas in the United States. But after watching The Masters for nearly 25 years and hearing the commentators wax poetically about “Augusta”, it’s hard not to expect more. Of course what they’re really talking about is Augusta National, which upon entering might as well be an entirely different universe.
Everything is clean. It’s meticulously manicured. Every single person is polite. The grass is so green that it looks fake. The buildings are so old yet so well kept, that they seemed to almost be a facade. Basically, it’s like Disneyland for adults. It’s a world within a world, where everything is nice, “light beer” and “diet sodas” cost less than at a gas station, and the scenery is beautiful. It’s a world where they make the rules, and vehemently enforce them. There are no cell phones or electronic equipment (cameras included, hence no pictures from inside) on the grounds. Even the sight of one will get you thrown out. There are no TVs showing any of the action, and no digital scoreboards. Just the old school hand-updated leaderboards. They expect their patrons to cheer for the golfers in a positive manner, and never out of turn. Anything remotely unbecoming or negative and you’re out. And you don’t want to lose out on one of the toughest tickets to get in all of sports.
Although tickets for the Masters are not expensive, they are very difficult to come by. Even the practice rounds can be difficult to get into. Applications for practice round tickets have to be made nearly a year in advance and the successful applicants are chosen by random ballot after providing your name, address, and Social Security number. Seriously. Tickets to the actual tournament are sold only to members of a patrons list, which is closed. A waiting list for the patrons list was opened in 1972 and closed in 1978. It was reopened in 2000 and subsequently closed once again. What that leads to is a ton of “badge sharing”, where scores of patrons are waiting outside of the gates for someone they know to come out and over the coveted badge to be used by someone else for a while. Ticket scalping is not only frowned upon, but also illegal within 1,000 feet of the entrances. This combined with badge sharing leaves little room for outsiders looking to find tickets. Those brave enough to ask people leaving the gates if they could buy their badge from them were nearly unanimously met with, “It’s not mine to sell”.
If you actually do ever find yourself lucky enough to be on the other side of the entrance gates and into the world of Augusta National, you act accordingly. What that makes for is one of the best sports experiences that you’ll ever have. The fans are all happy-go-lucky, nice to each other, and because the staff is so well trained and steadfast, everything has an easy fluidity to it. There’s no lines at the concessions, nor at the bathrooms. The grandstands aren’t reserved, and can be accessed at any given time because people are shuffling from hole to hole, and from group to group.
When you’re inside The Masters bubble, everything else fades away. The strip malls a block away, the hassle to get a badge, or any Augusta National Golf Club controversies are not thought about.
Nope, when you’re in this new world it all becomes about beauty. Fortunately, the beauty of the course becomes second only to the beauty of the sports watching experience at The Masters.