By Charlene S. Mixa
A First Time Patrons Perspective
Unbelievable! We’re going to the Masters! We have tickets to this coveted event! Last minute tickets became available on Friday for the Monday practice round. After some quick packing and locating a hotel room, Sunday we make the 9 hour drive from Oldsmar, FL to Augusta, GA.
Day 1 of the Practice Rounds at the Masters! Peeping out the window of our hotel room in Aiken, SC, the sky is gray and cloudy. During the night a front passed through bringing plenty of rain. On the 30 minute drive to Augusta, it is still cloudy and overcast. As rain pelts the car we trust the weatherman who said the rains would end by 8:30 AM.
Taking the Washington Street exit off I-20 we are directed to Parking Lot B. The sky is still overcast but no rain. Following the walkway to Gate 6, we feel the excitement and anticipation as the “patrons” approach the infamous Augusta National Golf Course – home of the Masters Tournament. We clear security and obey the rules of what you are allowed to take. The entrance walk of Augusta National Golf Course goes by the Golf Shop with Patrons already lined up, the Museum and toward the well known Clubhouse. Having watched this storied event for many years and listened to relatives and friends, who have attended the Masters, we are thrilled to be here. Now to take full advantage of the day!
Arriving at the Clubhouse, we snap quick photos and admire the view down the starting and ending holes (#1, #10 and #9 and #18). The Masters Leaderboard is blank with the flags on top whipping in the breeze. We head down #18 in hopes of catching Tiger Woods out for an early round. Soon we learn the easiest way to know who is on the Practice Tee, Putting Green or by hole on the course is to check out the information boards located around the course, listing exactly who and where the players are. Walking the course we are impressed with its beauty. The fairways and rough of rye grass are immaculate, a vivid emerald green and perfectly manicured. The Augusta National is only open from October to May and one of the best maintained golf course. An advantage the Masters has over other Major Golf events as it is the only one held every year. Fittingly at the course everything is permanent solid structures from TV camera stands, TV anchor stations at critical holes, and concessions all painted in Augusta Green. No “port-a-potties” for the Masters, the restrooms are slate and stone buildings staffed to make sure all are spotless.
The Masters is always played the second full week in April and spring is blossoming in this Georgia town. Magnificent foliage abounds with azaleas of every color in full bloom, the dogwood trees both white and pink burst with flowers to add extra color to the scene along each hole. “oohing and aahing” of the spectacular floral display, we stroll along the fairways, stopping periodically for a photo opportunity. Picture taking is allowed for Practice Rounds. It’s exciting to capture memorable photos of the course. Shortly after arriving, the clouds move off making for a spectacular day with beautiful blue skies, mild temperature and winds. It is an ideal day for experiencing this awesome course.
Walking along, each hole is unique. It might be Rae’s Creek winding in front of a green, the undulation of the green, depth of a fairway bunker, image of multitude of flowers blooming around a green or rolling hills of a fairway. Augusta National Golf Course holes have parallel fairways and often feel like tee boxes and greens are next to each other. The Spectator Guide, handed out on entry to the course, provides an excellent map of the course and each hole. It is the perfect reference for locating holes, facilities, information on the players, history and spectator suggestions for best viewing areas. As we walk the course we read the hole-by-hole description in the guide to get a true feel for the hole. This definitely adds to our pleasure later as we watch the tournament rounds, we can now recall each hole.
With questionable weather early in the day many of the top players opt to not play a practice round. In some ways this adds to the fun of the day, as the players who do take advantage of the practice round are more relaxed. A player may arrive at his ball, kick it to a better location, as the crowd laughs at his antics. It is a practice round and the primary purpose is to get acquainted with the course. During the day we see many notable players and are amazed at their attention to detail to learn the Augusta National’s idiosyncrasies.
Arriving at Amen Corner, we watch Fuzzy Zoeller, who will be playing his final round at the Masters this year, joke with the crowd at the tee for #12 the well known 155 yard, Par Three. Fuzzy invites young men from the crowd to tee it up on this dramatic hole. Either the young men are not golfers or the excitement of the moment overwhelms them but both are challenged to hit the ball or get any distance beyond the tee box. Of course it is still a crowd pleaser.
Another good location for viewing golfers is on the #10 green. Augusta National GC has a lot of elevation changes and this hole is a good example of a downhill fairway with a very elevated green. As the approach shots hit the green the balls roll off this contoured green. Balls roll back down into the fairway, off the side or off the back of the green. The wind picks up and pinecones and pine needles fall from the trees around the green. As soon as the foursome leaves the green, several volunteers run out to pick up any debris and take a blower to clean the green. Everything at the Masters must be kept perfect!
Sitting around the #2 Green we watch golfers practice various shots to the green. With limited play this day, many players try approaching the green from different angles. Then once on the green their caddies spot the four hole locations for the tournament round marking it with a tee. The player practices his shots and putts to these locations. Many take notes on each area to review during the tournament. The dedication to really understanding the nuisances of the course are amazing. Of course this is their “real job”. It’s entertaining to see a player coming down the fairway and guess who it is by his stature, style, or walk. A player is walking to his ball on the fairway probably 75 yards from the green. Just as I think that looks like Greg Norman, someone in the crowd says “isn’t that Greg Norman”. We are good at this game, , it is Greg!
Lunch is terrific and cheap! Believe it the pimento cheese sandwiches are only $1.50 and the chicken sandwiches are $2.50. Four sandwiches, two bags of chips and water are under $10.00! Efficiency is expected and mandated at the Masters. The food venues are well organized, quickly stocked and ready to move volumes of patrons quickly.
As the day is drawing to a close and before the mad dash of shopping, we head over to the clubhouse for a memorable photo. The Practice Tee is located here as is the “photo opportunity” of the floral display of the Masters’ logo with the clubhouse in the background. While the Masters “officially” has a NO AUTOGRAPH policy, we did see several youngsters getting autographs as players walked to the Practice Tee.
Our final destination is the Golf Shop to purchase memorabilia of the Masters. Of course several friends requested we pick up some items for them. The line for the Golf Shop moves quickly. The biggest challenge especially in the ladies and children’s area is the merchandise racks are so close together there is barely room to move, even single file. We manage to maneuver and select our purchases. While the food is inexpensive at the Masters the Golf Shop is not. Merchandise with the official Masters logo can only be purchased at the Masters. Purchases can easily total several hundred dollars.
We end our day happy to have experienced the beauty and excitement of this notable course. The weather was great providing a terrific day for us. As golfers we appreciate the challenge the course offers and its pristine condition.
Pointers for attending the Masters:
- Get the word out! Let people know you are interested in getting Masters tickets. You never know who might have tickets they can’t use. Unbelievable! We told our Pro at our Club on Wednesday we wanted to go to the Masters and on Friday, he had two tickets to Practice Rounds. Tickets were only $36.00 each.
- Sign up for the lottery for Masters Tickets, we know several people who have obtained tickets this way. For information go to: http://www.themasters.com
- Speak up! Twice there were instances where someone mentioned they had Masters Tickets and was anyone interested and we didn’t “speak up” fast enough.
- Be alert! This goes back to making things happen. Let people know, let your Pro know and golf buddies that you want to go to the Masters. That opportunity just might come along.
If you go:
- Get information off Masters website on what you can and cannot take (many people were sent back because of cell phones, chairs with arm rests, etc.)
- Practice rounds allow cameras and photography
- Read up on the course, history, etc.
- Upon arrival at your hotel or in the area, check out the local papers and special editions for history, details and activities.
- Arrive early and be prepared for all types of weather.
- Take binoculars
- Wear comfortable clothing and good walking shoes or golf shoes (Ladies this is not a fashion show! Wear walking/tennis shoes not heels, flip flops or sandals)
- Shop early! The Golf Shop was jammed at the end of the day. Everyone is making purchases on the way out. There are check stands so you can shop and check items, but I suggest shop when you arrive, take packages to the car and you are done. You are allowed to leave and return to the event with your ticket properly scanned.
- Walk the course or stay at selected location – personal preference dictates this. We wanted to experience the course and players were not the big attraction the day we were there. It is a lot of walking and lot of elevation changes so you need to be in good shape to walk. If you are at the tournament event, then staying in a specific location is recommended. There are terrific viewing areas and recommendations in the Spectator Guide.
- Visit all the areas- be sure to go to the Practice Tee, Practice Green, front of the Clubhouse.
- Utilize the Spectator Guide – it has great information and suggestions
- Check the boards for who is on the Practice Tee, Practice Green and what holes on the course. This saves time looking for a player who may not be playing in a practice round and for those who are you know where they are.
Playing Augusta National Golf Course – if you don’t have a friend who is a member and invites you to play, then be a volunteer. The volunteers we chatted with say they volunteer for the week in return for getting to play the course. They get to play it in May just before the course closes for the season. One gentleman we spoke with has been volunteering for 17 years. The only catch we heard was you need to know someone to get on the volunteer list.