The following is a guest blog by Jeff Trost, a Calgary millennial, who is passionate about golf and big events.
You might call me a bit of a ‘big event’ travel junkie. I’ve traveled to London, England just for concerts, convinced my parents we should sidetrack from our San Diego trip for a day to hit a concert in Los Angeles. Often my vacations are planned to coincide with some sort of spectacle (eg. first-ever North American Red Bull Air Race in New York City, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in London).
The Masters Golf Tournament was at the top of my bucket list, so I almost had a stroke when I was notified I got tickets in their lottery system. There wasn’t a chance I was going to give those up even though I am an accountant and it is the middle of tax season.
Everything you can imagine about Augusta is true. There is not a blade of grass out of place and it is as green in person as on TV. The organization and staff are outstanding; spectators (whoops I mean patrons) are treated like royalty.
Damn Mother Nature
The first thing you need to know about our day in Augusta, Georgia for the Masters is that our time was very limited because of the weather. Since we knew the weather was iffy (and ultimately had to leave the course twice due to lightning and a tornado watch), we had to prioritize, and were very fortunate to even get back in for the short stint in the afternoon (all I did that time was hit the Pro shop – I wasn’t leaving without my mementos).
Reverence for the Property
Approaching the patrons’ gates from the west side of the property, people noisily gather from the parking lots and walkways onto the single pathway to a covered area where your badges were scanned and bags checked. But as soon as you walked into the grounds, a hush fell over the crowd as there is a sense of church-like reverence associated with the Masters that I have never experienced anywhere else. There was no need for the quietness as we were a long way from the course and the players.
I actually leaned over to my Dad and whispered, “We’re at the Masters.”
We started our day walking through the entrance and past the practice facility, where we stopped for a bit to watch Brendan Steele, Danny Willett (2016 Masters Champion), JB Holmes, Trevor Immelman among others, chipping and putting, and then decided to move onto the course.
Returning to the range later on, we caught Rickie Fowler, Jason Day, Ernie Els, Jordan Spieth, and Adam Scott all in their routines.
The practice range/putting greens are the only areas on the course you can request/wait for autographs - the priority being kids. I thought about how Arnold Palmer would never refuse an autograph or stop signing until every kid around him had one, and this truly embodied this idea.
My highest priority for the day was to be able to see ‘Amen Corner’ (holes 11, 12 and 13 for those who don’t follow golf) and photograph them. The 12th hole is perhaps one of the most photographed golf locations in the world (maybe even one of the most photographed places on the planet). It is very surreal to see in person.
From here we continued around holes 13,14 and 15 ending up sitting at the par 3 16th hole for a few groups including Rafa Cabrera-Bello, amateur Scott Gregory, Russell Knox, Brian Stuard, and Billy Hurley III. 16 is as close as you get to a ‘Stadium’ hole at Augusta, as it’s a short hole with a large bowl shape around it giving great sight-lines for patrons.
On practice round days the fans are boisterous and shouting for the players to skip balls across the pond which most will partake in. It doesn’t have the ‘roar’ of the 16th hole at TPC Scottsdale during the Phoenix Open, but a very fun place to sit and watch nonetheless.
We then ventured backwards on the course and ran into Dustin Johnson’s group playing a practice round and followed them for about a hole and a half. Watching him hit drives off the tee on 14 and 15 was mind-blowing. I’ve never heard anything close to the loud crack Johnson’s driver makes as it hits the ball.
From there we walk back by the 18th tee box and then over to the 10th again, finding the spot where Bubba Watson hit the famous 40 yard hook in the 2012 playoff. Standing there it is hard to visualize how he pulled off the shot he did - and I am a left-handed player also.
Venturing back up, we caught a glimpse of Canadians Mike Weir and Mackenzie Hughes playing practice holes. As a left-handed golfer and Canadian, Mike Weir was always a personal favorite player of mine, and his win at the Masters came around the same time I was just starting to commit large portions of my time to golf.
Seeing is Believing
One of the best things about attending the tournament on the Monday-Wednesday practice round days is that you’re allowed cameras onto the grounds, unlike the Thursday-Sunday tournament days when there are no cameras and no cell phones allowed. Period. They had no issues with large cameras, so I took a full size DSLR with two lenses including a large telephoto lens.
The crowds on practice round days are also thinner, because there is activity all over the course throughout the entire day and players are always coming and going. Compared to the crowds of 20 or 30 deep on the 18th hole on the Sunday, I was never more than one or two people behind the ropes.
From a golfer’s perspective, TV does not do the course justice. It is one hilly course that is in no way reflected on TV. You start at the top of a hill on 1 and 10 tees, and on 9 and 18 you climb back up to the greens and clubhouse. There are significant elevation changes all over the course and undulations that make ball placement key… even in the middle of a fairway. Think Priddis or Water Valley times ten. You watch the tournament on TV in an entirely different way after walking the course.
For an amateur player, I would say the course is very playable with generous fairways, and not an impossible challenge… you wouldn’t be playing from the same tee boxes as the pros. The greens are what would kill me…. Some have unbelievable breaks you can see a mile away, others area microscopically subtle. I now appreciate how easy it is to miss a two-foot put at the Masters.
Food prices are the same as in 1980s and the menu is very basic. I spent $6.50 on lunch for a Pimento Cheese (their famous sandwich), a BBQ sandwich, and a Coke (in a really nice plastic cup that people keep as mementos - my buddy went through the concession line twice, just to go and buy two more of the cups… but just empty!) For a similar meal at a NFL or NHL, game I bet I would have spent over $30.
The Pro shop is very well organized and you have no worries of anything ever being out of stock. All of the souvenirs available are sensible, not tacky, and reasonably priced. Shirts/and hats each with a number are all displayed behind big counters. You yell out the number of what you want and one of the dozens of staff members grabs it for you in a matter of seconds. Of course you’ll pay a small premium for the logo on shirts and hats, but we’re talking quality product in every price range desirable.
I bet there were close to 100 different shirts, and 200 hats to choose from, meticulously organized. For you golf nerds, even the box of Pro-V1s sold in the shop came in a ‘Masters Green’ box. My sought-after souvenir, was the famous yellow pin flag that I now have hanging above my desk at work.
There was a photo station set up on the front entrance flower bed at the end of Magnolia Lane where they would take your picture and give you a card with the info on how to download it from the website….all at no charge!
Lottery vs Stubhub
The Masters was the first time I’ve been to ANY sporting event where I didn’t feel nickel and dimed. They’re not in it to make a profit from the spectators… TV rights pay for everything the club needs. They know this is the ultimate fan event and this is often a once in a lifetime opportunity for many to walk Augusta National.
You’ll spend a pretty penny on a hotel during Masters week, and tickets into the gates can be an arm and a leg from resellers: a week before the tournament, a 7-day badge to the grounds was $11,000US on Stubhub (and I thought Super Bowl tickets were expensive!)
The tickets through the lottery system where I got mine for any day of the tournament are $65. You can barely get in the doors at a NHL or NFL game in the nosebleeds for that type of price.
All that being said, it’s 100% worth it, and an experience a golfer at any level, even one who doesn’t care for watching golf will never forget. I could write a blog post a week until next year’s Masters tournament about the unique nuances of the property, the people and the whole event if I had time.
If it weren’t for the issue of the tournament being in the middle of tax season, I’d be finding a way to be in Augusta for the tournament every year.
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