Reflections From A First Time Masters Patron

The Masters - Augusta National
The Masters - Augusta National / Andrew Redington/GettyImages

The Masters – a tradition unlike any other. The unofficial beginning of golf season, especially for those of us who live half the year in colder climates. And for many golf junkies, the Masters is a mirage, a place that feels so familiar, yet so difficult to find the means to enter those hallowed grounds of Augusta National Golf Club.

You see, for most of the general public, the only way to attend the first major of the season is by winning the Masters lottery – no, really, it’s called the Masters lottery and each year, eager and hopeful golf fans enter their name electronically into the lottery, hoping they get the email congratulating them and inviting them to attend.

After 12 years of entering the lottery, our email came on a sultry summer day last July – “How would you like to go to the Masters,” asked my wife, Rhiannon. And that’s when the planning began. It was official – we were the chosen ones (at least that’s how getting tickets to the Masters feels).

After what felt like an eternity, the day – Monday, April 8th – was finally upon us. Something to note here is that I am decidedly not a fan of lines, and especially of standing in them. But we were told that the lines move quickly, and that they did.

Our first stop at the Masters was the Golf Shop.

After researching “going to the Masters” more thoroughly than many students research their thesis, Rhiannon had a plan and at the top of that plan’s list was acquiring the most sought-after of Masters merchandise, the Masters Gnome. They sell out extremely quickly, we were told, so we waited in line, sure that they would be gone when we finally got in the Golf Shop. We hustled (NO running anywhere on Augusta grounds) toward the checkout, and there as a shining reward for our patience stood the gnomes. We grabbed two (only one per person allowed) and were off to spend the rest of our retirement savings in the Louvre of golf pro shops.

Next stop – Founders Circle. As we strolled toward the golf course, it suddenly unfolded before us like a beautiful painting. There was the 18th green. Wait, is that the 9th hole? Look over there, that must be the 10th tee. There was so much to take in that it felt like you couldn’t see it fast enough…as if you might miss something important.

After having our picture taken at Founders Circle (which is adjacent to Magnolia Lane where the players enter the grounds and where we saw Dustin Johnson drive in), it was time to walk the course.

It is a surreal feeling being at such an iconic sporting venue and feeling like you’ve been there before. After having watched the Masters all these years, each hole was recognizable; however, the part I didn’t expect was how close many of the holes were to each other. For instance, walking downhill at the par-3 6th, the par-3 16th is directly next to it.

After an invigorating early morning, we were in quite the mood to check out the Masters’ famous concessions, where prices remain permanently frozen in time. The star of the show, the pimento cheese sandwich, looked like something your grandma might make you when you visit – white bread and a scoop of pimento cheese. That something so simple could taste that delicious was a testament to the traditions and simplicity that make the Masters what it is. Two bags of chips, two pimento cheese sandwiches, and two Arnold Palmers set us back…$13! That’s how much a beer costs at most other tournaments!

Feeling just a bit richer after having squandered our nest egg at the Golf Shop, but made up for it with concessions, we set off to see the rest of the course feeling happy and energized.

As we navigated through towering Georgia pine trees and across fairways so immaculate you were apologetic to step on them, we discovered one iconic hole after another. From Mickelson’s swashbuckling 6 iron on 13 to Tiger’s “in your life have you seen anything like that” moment on 16, we knew that we would now have a better understanding, a clearer picture of every shot we see at the Masters now.

Earlier in the day as we walked the front 9, we would hear the roar of the crowd every so often. Nothing out of the ordinary for a practice round at the Masters, as eager crowds who may be experiencing their first visit applaud with excitement at good shots. But the roars just kept coming.

It was only when we arrived at the par-3 16th hole that we realized what the roars were about. One of the beloved Masters traditions is that during practice rounds, players will try to skip a ball over the pond at 16 and onto the green. The enthusiasm and entertainment value were contagious, and we soon found ourselves cheering as loud as anyone for players like Fowler, Finau, and Rose to, “Skip it! Skip it!”

Most players obliged to raucous cheers, but the real roars were reserved for the caddies. Sure, the players are skilled enough to manage a trick shot like that, but what about the caddies? Anything could happen. As some caddies gave it their best shot, the patrons (that’s what they are called at the Masters, not fans) rewarded their effort with hollers and applause, and we looked at each other with full-teeth smiles and the acknowledgement that yes, indeed, this was all that we had hoped for and more.

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As the day slipped away and our time at Augusta (course closes at 6:30 sharp) came to an end, we did all in our power to soak up every vista, every sound, every smell, everything we could that would help us remember this bucket-list trip. And then we went to get another pimento cheese sandwich and take one more spin around the Golf Shop.