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By Travelin’ Joe Passov
I’m a lucky guy. As a media member, I’ve had the great fortune to attend all or part of 17 Masters Tournaments. There’s nothing in golf—or sports—quite like it. I’ve walked every hole at Augusta National on multiple occasions and as my waistline can attest, I’ve sampled virtually every menu item on multiple occasions. I’ve knocked off an entire Christmas list by shopping in the main merchandise tent—tent being an epic misnomer. The current version, as of 2018, is the size of a small city. Bottom line: I’ve been around the Masters block a few times. Have you got your daily tickets and weekly badges secured? Here’s how to make the most out of your Masters experience.
Picking your Days
If you can only go for a day or two during the week, that’s not such a bad thing. If you have your choice, even better. Many Masters patrons crave the action of Saturday’s play for its “Moving Day” drama, while others prefer the electricity and roars of a Sunday afternoon. You can’t go wrong with either—but I’m a Wednesday/Thursday guy.
On Wednesday, you can follow the pros who grab nine holes of practice on the championship course in the morning, then partake of the par-3 tournament in the afternoon on the most picturesque short course in golf. It’s there where you can follow many of the current stars, sometimes with their six-year-old kids caddying for them, but equally compelling is getting to see the legends, such as Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Tom Watson, who no longer compete in the tournament proper, but can display old-time brilliance on the short course—notably in 2018, when Watson captured the Par-3 Contest at age 68.
The eighth and ninth holes, on opposite sides of a pond are prime viewing spots, thanks to their vast hillsides, but take your place as early as you can because every square inch will soon be jammed with golf fans—patrons, as the Masters calls them. Your best opportunity to witness an ace is at the 70-yard second hole, and at the 90-yard third, both with friendly backstops on portions of the speedy green that gently direct golf balls toward the cup. If you’re with at least two pals, it’s a blast to wager which player in each threesome will finish closest to the pin. Spend the balance of the day strolling the big course in near solitude in the late afternoon shadows. With no players and few spectators to disturb the reverie, it’s akin to contemplating life in an empty cathedral.
Thursday is another special day. The enormous crowds of the Monday-Wednesday practice rounds have dissipated, and the patrons who are present are spread out nicely because there are no leaders to follow yet. Also, you’ll be able to follow all of your favorites, as no one has been cut yet.
One of unique traditions at the Masters is the honorary starters who hit the ceremonial opening tee shots. In 2018, there were two: six-time champion Jack Nicklaus and three-time champ Gary Player. Check with the club and its website to determine just when the gates open—anywhere from 7:00 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. Get there early if you want to see any of the action at the first tee. Thursday dawns with an air of anticipation. The party-like ambience of Wednesday’s Par-3 event has yielded to the sobering reality that the field is playing for the year’s first major championship.
Getting to the Course
Within the past ten years, Augusta National Golf Club has engineered re-routed roads and property purchases to triple of amount of free parking adjacent to the course. Arrive early however, as spaces fill quickly. If they do, continue down Washington Road in either direction, or journey to the side streets. A vast number of businesses and private homes will relieve you of $20 and you can begin your day.
Inside the Gates
Definitely strategize before you go, or you may miss out on the best of the Masters. Once the tournament starts, make a beeline to the small grandstand behind the 12th tee. That’s an ideal, elevated spot for viewing approaches to the always dangerous 11th green and also for viewing the proceedings in front of you at the short but terror-filled 12th, one of the world’s greatest par-3s. With binoculars, you can also track the tee shots at 13. If you can’t find room there, the slope that leads down to the right of the 11th fairway is nearly as good for golf-watching.
Another outstanding place to camp is at the outside elbow of the dogleg at the par-5 13th. Azaleas, bunkers, fairway contour and Rae’s Creek all are co-stars here and the risk/reward second shot is one of the most ingenious ever designed. Be patient and persistent there, however, as tree plantings and additional pine straw have reduced the viewing opportunities in recent years.
I’m also a fan of the right side of the 10th fairway where you’re afforded a stunning, unobstructed vantage point of competitors hitting their irons shots into the green from a sidehill, downhill lie.
If you’re looking to grab some rays and catch some golf from a unique perspective, the broad hillside below the tee box at the par-3 sixth is prime. You can’t see the tee shots struck, but you can see them land, and you can also observe some of the action to the right at the par-3 16th.
My favorite Jekyll-Hyde viewing experience is at the par-3 16th. If the hole is cut back-right, the old traditional Saturday placement, go sit somewhere else. No one can get near that pin, and frankly, it’s pretty dull. If the hole is cut to the left, grab a bleacher seat and be prepared to be amazed. The lurking water adds instant drama and the contour of the green will redirect many balls close to the hole.
Finally, whether or not you have inside-the-clubhouse-ropes access (via a badge), don’t miss parking yourself near or next to the giant, ancient oak tree between the clubhouse and the first tee. It’s a beehive of activity every day, from pros to broadcasters to caddies to agents to administrators. Anyone who’s anyone in the game of golf will find their way to the oak tree during the week, especially on Wednesday and Thursday.
Crushing it in the Merchandise Shop
They doubled the size of the main merchandise shop at the Masters—you can hardly call it a “tent” anymore—and yet the place is still packed wall-to-wall until the doors close. Even the players and broadcasters shop here, though they usually access the badge-only members pro shop near the clubhouse oak and the first fairway. The members shop usually has a handful of goods you won’t find in the main shop, or in the on-course satellite shops. You have to purchase your Masters logo items on the grounds. Masters gear is only sold during Masters week and they don’t engage in online merchandising.
Go early in the week if you can for an absolute guarantee you’ll find the item and size you want. If you’re walking your goodies back to your car, go very late in the day, so that you don’t have to lug them around, or else go very early. You can re-enter the grounds once with your ticket or badge. In recent years, the Masters has added a shipping option—and it’s tremendously convenient, if you’re OK waiting a few days for your purchases to arrive. If you utilize this service, go early in the day while others are busy watching golf. If this task slips your mind, there’s a small shop just inside the entrance/exit gates that will suffice if you need a hat.
Good Eats Served Here
Masters Series Badges are considered one of sport’s Golden Tickets. The platinum upgrade would be a Clubhouse Badge. If you have Clubhouse credentials, you can savor two of golf’s outstanding dining experiences: lunch in the members-only clubhouse, with multiple, individually distinctive rooms from which to choose and lunch on the lawn next to the huge oak that abuts the clubhouse. The green-and-white jumbo umbrellas that shade the tables are as ubiquitous at the Masters as Magnolia Lane and the green jacket.
If you don’t have access to the clubhouse or an invitation to the ultimate in Masters hospitality, Berckmans Place, you’ll dine like most other Masters patrons, and frankly, that is just fine. The menu prices appeal to all, in virtually a reverse-chic way. The miniscule costs for sandwiches, snacks and beverages is another check mark as to how refreshingly great the Masters is, with its emphasis on tradition, rather than pure profits.
Of the sandwich choices, each wrapped in green paper, the standout is the legendary Pimento Cheese. Admittedly, purists have claimed that a recent recipe change has devalued its greatness, yet for $1.50, its creamy goodness, peppered with chunks of pimento and served on the kind of white bread you enjoyed as an eight-year-old will leave you satisfied. The other must-try on the Masters menu is the Georgia Peach Ice Cream Sandwich, a newer staple. A former colleague once described it as “a massive slab of peach ice cream smashed between two sugar cookies.” For two dollars, it’s all the dessert snack you could want. A fresh-brewed iced tea is $2.00 and a domestic beer $4.00. Now that’s retro.
Do This, Don’t Do That
Do: Take a photo in front of the clubhouse at Founders Circle, alongside the flower bed that holds the Augusta flag. It’s right across from Magnolia Lane, the closest you’ll get to the most famous entrance drive in golf, unless you’re playing the course. Expect long lines, and a lasting memory.
Don’t: Tote a smartphone to take your photos. While traditional cameras are permitted Monday through Wednesday, modern camera-phones are never permitted.
Do: Wear comfortable shoes, especially ones with effective traction. And pay special care when it rains. Augusta National’s grass is shaved down nearly everywhere, so when it’s wet and even a little muddy, it gets quite slippery on the hills.
Don’t: Run, anywhere or anytime.
Do: Bring a chair—a collapsible model, without arm rests. Masters chairs are sold in the Merchandise Shop for a surprisingly low price, $29. You can place your chair next to a green (do this as early in the day as possible) and wander away for hours. Upon your return, your chair will be there, just as you left it. Classic Masters civility.
Don’t: Bring a backpack, periscope, tablet or beverage cooler. Binoculars are OK, though.
Do: Have a great time at one of the truly iconic sporting events in the world.