My purpose for writing this post is not to re-cap a Masters competition or explain the layout. Instead, I am writing to describe the experience of attending the Masters. Those who have been to the tournament know the excitement and anticipation associated with attending the event. At the time of writing I have been to the 2012 Masters, and this coming Friday I will be attending the 2015 Masters tournament. I couldn’t be more excited.
On my first visit to the tournament, we entered Augusta National on Thursday through the main security gate. Metal detectors and guards made sure we weren’t carrying any phones, cameras, or other contraband. We had a game plan: 1) Watch the ceremonial tee off by Palmer, Nicklaus, and Player; 2) Walk the entire course while it was relatively empty and open; and 3) See as much golf as possible in the remaining time. I would highly recommend this second point to any patrons attending the event. Use this morning time to explore nooks of the course that go unseen on TV. After all, we golf course architecture nerds are there to see the real star – the course – rather than the players.
After we passed through the gates, the practice facilities, recently redone and considered some of the best in the world, appeared on the lefthand side. Short game areas with full size, real speed greens, dot the practice center and replicate shots found on the actual course. Sticking to our game plan, we proceeded to the right, passing “Masters green” permanent buildings for merchandise and food. Funneling past the buildings, the trees cleared and opened to the first, vast view of Augusta National.
Once through this dark tree portal, it was an uphill left to the clubhouse, famed oak tree, and first tee. The small, simple clubhouse looked elegant and was full of members and their guests relaxing on the warm day. We didn’t have clubhouse passes, and we envied the patrons and members relaxing under the shade of the famous oak tree and lounging on the porch wrapping around the white clubhouse.
The scale of the place cannot be understated. The views are expansive, even with the groves of trees separating fairways. Everywhere you look, there is strikingly dark, lush green grass. All of the typical sayings associated with Augusta National ring true: “Try to find a weed… bet you can’t!” or “There’s not a single blade of grass out of place!” Every bit of the course was in perfect condition. It is hard to imagine the amount of work that goes into preparing the course for its magnum opus: The Masters. Teams of greenskeepers come in from around the Southeast to help with the course maintenance during the week of the tournament. Everything is perfect.
The “hilliness” or elevation changes at Augusta National are also striking. Many of the holes require blind shots to elevated greens. The greens are extremely undulating. These features don’t fully come across on the television. It isn’t until you approach shots land on the likes of the 6th green that you realize just how sloping the greens really are.
I soon realized after exploring the first few holes, Augusta National is a different kind of penal to other great courses. The rough is cut short, the bunkers are massive, but shallow in places, and the course isn’t unbelievably long. The course instead shows its bite in fast undulating greens, with a large premium on local knowledge. Knowing where to miss is just as important as knowing your target area. Six inches on either side of a ridge could be the difference between a fifty-foot putt and a two footer.
At an interesting point in the day, we heard voices to our left while making our way down the left side of the tenth hole. Sitting with his family, within earshot, was Jack Nicklaus, enjoying the porch of one of Augusta National’s white cabins. He was taking in the nice afternoon with hundreds of people passing him, too busy to notice the golfing icon. Ironically, these were the same cabins that provided the backdrop for Rory McIlroy’s massive hook on the tenth hole and his eventual collapse in the 2011 Masters.
I have been lucky enough to attend both the 2011 US Open at Congressional and the 2011 Open Championship at Royal St Georges. The Masters was completely different. The numbers of people are much smaller at the Masters. The people in attendance aren’t fans; they are “patrons.” Patrons’ personal green Masters chairs dot the course and line the greens. Once a chair is placed, nobody other than the owner can sit in it or move it. There is an unspoken honor code upheld by nearly everyone. This is simply not found at other golfing events.
Where the US Open and the Open Championship offered overpriced and bad food, the Masters has its famous sandwiches and drinks. $2.00 for a pimento cheese sandwich (among other kinds), $1.00 for chips, and $1.50 for a drink. There may be few options, but everything is fresh, tasty, and very inexpensive. They simply want to provide the patrons with food and drink for the day instead of seeing another area in which to make money.
So, what is the Masters like? The overarching factor that sets the Masters apart is simply Augusta National’s aura. It is the “x factor” that no other course can replicate. It is the perfection of the course, the secrecy of the club, the traditions, the history, the members circulating in their green jackets, and it all adds up to create something unlike anything else. You pass through those gates into another world.