Great golf, cheap food & Tiger's lack of decorum make for a Masters-ful experience
While I am avid about all things golf, the last thing that interests me is being a golf spectator. I spend my life waiting in lines at airports, hotels, rental car kiosks . . . well, you get the picture. So thank you, I’ll pass on the opportunity to wait in line to park, go through security, get a beer, and stand for hours packed like a sardine in a prime viewing area to spend 30 seconds in close proximity to Tiger Woods as he works his magic with a golf club.
Ah, but the Masters is different.
I didn't think twice when an old friend offered his house and I snagged tickets to two practice rounds—Tuesday and Wednesday (which included the Par-3 Tournament)—and Thursday's first round. And I'm glad I did because it more than lived up to my expectations.
1. The contours and raw beauty
No matter how many times you have been—or if you have never been—to the Masters, its pristine beauty, with no blade of grass out of place, is a marvel to behold: the flowers, the foliage, and the sheer beauty of the course. And it is much more hilly and contoured than even a 3-D TV shows.
As my husband said, "I could stay here forever."
As my husband said, "I could stay here forever."
Walking the course is not for the out-of-shape. Some of the elevation changes exceed 100 feet. By the time you reach the uphill slog of the 18th hole, your legs are tired. Combine that with the adrenaline of the game and you can see why the 18th hole is so challenging.
2. Augusta is about traditions: Some fun, some endearing and some not so great
The Masters is the only one of golf’s four majors that is held at the same course each year, the Augusta National Golf Club. Augusta has capitalized on its yearly venue with many of its own traditions. While some seem outdated—members in green jackets walking around the fairways in the sweltering sun—others are fun and endearing.
One of my favorite traditions involves fans placing their sports chairs in their favorite viewing area. They are then free to walk around the course and know that there chairs will be waiting for them when they return. We typically entered the club at 8 a.m., dropped our chairs off at the popular 16th hole, and didn’t return until late afternoon, knowing that our chairs would be waiting for us. This is the spirit of Augusta.
During practice rounds, after the players tee off at the par three 16th hole, fronted by a pond that extends from the tee box to the green, the fans chant "skip it, skip it.”
Another tradition is the Par-3 Tournament, which features the tournament’s players, past winners and invited guests, with wives, girlfriends and children dressed in white Masters’ caddies’ uniforms, carrying their player’s clubs.
The nine hole Par-3 three course is across the street from the main course, with holes ranging from 80 to 135 yards. For us old-timers, it may be the last time we will see Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Arnold Palmer play together with their grandkids holding the bag.
There is nothing cuter than a 3-year-old carrying her father’s or grandfather’s clubs. As Luke Donald carried his weary angelic daughter off the 9th hole he tweeted, "This is what it is about anyway."
Another tradition is “skip it.” During practice rounds, after the players tee off at the par three 16th hole, fronted by a pond that extends from the tee box to the green, the fans (“patrons” in Augusta speak) chant "skip it, skip it.”
That is the signal for the player to hit another ball very low, skip it across the pond and (sometimes) land it on the green. Woe to the player who doesn't join in the fun, and most of them enjoy it as much as do the patrons.
3. Every golf tournament should take a lesson from Augusta in event execution
Imagine having 35,000 ticket holders for an all-day event where you have to provide parking, three meals, a world class shopping experience, crowd control, and comfort facilities. Augusta has long since committed to an exemplary spectator experience, unparalleled in golf and the sports world itself.
From the number and convenient locations of concessions to the spotlessly clean restrooms (no porta potties here), the fan experience is unsurpassed.
From the number and convenient locations of concessions and the quality of the food, to the ample bank of phones and the spotlessly clean restrooms (no porta potties here), the fan experience is unsurpassed.
Logistically it is a marvel. When you line at the concession you know exactly what your wait will be and often it is less than that. In the finest of Southern tradition, Augusta’s volunteers are uniformly pleasant, knowledgeable and seemingly grateful that you have spent your day with them at the Masters.
4. You spend a fortune getting tickets but food is cheap
Augusta sells it estimated 35,000 daily tickets (“badges in Augusta speak) in an annual lottery at reasonable prices ($50 for practice rounds). But for every successful winner there are dozens of bidders. So, although Augusta prohibits reselling, professional ticket scalpers abound. Plan to spend hundreds of dollars for a practice round badge, and up to several thousand dollars for a tournament round badge, depending how far in advance.
Given the magnificence of the grounds and the star quality of the players, Augusta would be forgiven for charging an arm and a leg for food. But that isn't the Masters tradition.
Given the magnificence of the grounds and the star quality of the players, Augusta would be forgiven for charging an arm and a leg for food. But that isn’t the Masters tradition. Plan to feast on the Augusta tradition of pimento cheese sandwiches ($1.50), sweet tea ($1.50), and hot barbeque ($3.00). In addition, Augusta does not charge for parking and charges only a nominal amount to ship golf shop purchases.
5. A Volunteer payoff: Free tickets and free golf
While waiting for a group to approach the second green, we spoke to a volunteer. This was his 15th year. We were incredulous that he would spend a week of vacation to fly cross-country to Augusta on his own dime, pay for his own lodging and transportation, and work for free. The friendly gentlemen explained that there were literally hundreds of volunteers who flew in from all over the world to work at the Masters.
And the payoff? "The Masters gives us two tickets which we can sell to earn money to pay for our expenses,” he explained, "and also several golf shirts every few years which are their on-course uniforms. The gentleman paused for dramatic effect and said, "And of course, there is the round of golf that certain volunteers get to play at the end of May.”
6. Tiger up close: He spits
On Thursday, the first day of competition, we dragged our chairs to the 175 yard par three 16th hole, and placed them at the tee box. We were within three feet of the players as they discussed their shot with their caddies, teed up, and hit their shot. One of our goals was to see Tiger up-close and up-close we did. Tiger is perhaps not as bulked up as he was three years ago but he is still ripped.
But more important is the resonance of power. While 5,000 eyes were on him as he looked at the club and seemed irritable with his caddie, Joe LaCava (formerly Fred Couples’ caddie), he repeatedly spit. He is so laser-like focused that he can ignore the large and friendly crowd.
And why does Tiger spit? Does he chew tobacco? I doubt it. Is it a habit, perhaps learned from his father? I don’t know. Does it relieve stress? Perhaps. But, he spits. A lot. I just wonder if the very particular Augusta National Golf Club, which prides itself on its decorum, would let one of their own members spit on the course before adoring patrons.
Of course, as the tournament continued, he had more pressing things to worry about.