Few experiences in golf ever compare to the first time you get to go to The Masters.
In the aftermath of the 2016 Masters I wrote a few articles about the weekend I was lucky enough to have spent at Augusta National.
The first piece was a first-hand look at the 2016 Masters Tournament: what it was like follow Jason Day and Justin Johnson around, to be nearby as Jordan Spieth collapsed and the tension that followed on the closing holes as Danny Willett held his nerve to capture the green jacket. The second article described the majestic, incredible moment when a Masters debutant lays eyes on Augusta National for the first time.
And ever since I’ve been wanting to write a little more on what the Masters experience is like as a patron; what it’s like to line up at the gates as the course opens each day, what it’s like to get merchandise, food and most importantly what it’s like to go to the toilet at The Masters.
So here it is.
You could be forgiven for thinking you’re in the wrong town for The Masters when you first lay eyes on Augusta, Georgia. It isn’t the sort of place you would expect the hallowed, lush grounds of Augusta National to be anywhere near. In some ways it adds to the charm and much like Disneyland, it’s a whole other world behind those gates.
It doesn’t just feel like Disneyland because of this incredible difference between the boundaries of Augusta National and what lies inside, but the gates itself feel like a theme park. At most gates lie huge structures that dwarf the turnstiles that generally make for a warm welcome and a smooth flow of patrons that only increases the anticipation of what lies behind the pines.
It’s like passing between two different times and places, decades apart, that left me awestruck but with a nagging, disturbing sense of the separation and exclusiveness that pervades golf in many other countries outside of Australia.
Where and how to watch
Yes Augusta National is a thing of beauty (I described seeing Augusta for the first time here) and yes it is much more undulating that it appear on TV but something I didn’t realise was just how great a place it is to watch golf.
The routing and undulation give many opportunities to get a great view of the golf; often the best spots are further back from the ropes on higher ground making it possible to follow the big name groups all the way around.
In a sign that the Chino wearing Masters patrons are a knowledgeable bunch when it comes to golf, there aren’t any marshall’s telling everyone to keep quiet at Augusta. While there are signs aplenty around the food stands and bathrooms (more on that later), there isn’t a “Quiet Please” sign in sight inside the ropes at The Masters.
Grabbing a Masters approved fold-out chair is a great option. Particularly if you get to the course early. Masters patron etiquette has it that if you place your chair down anywhere, it’s yours to come and sit down in at any time during the day. No one will move it, and no one will sit in it. In practice, some patrons do sit in unoccupied chairs but as soon as the rightful chair owners turn up they gladly stand and move on.
The sight of well-to-do patrons walking as fast as they can but without running is highly amusing, particularly around the 18th green on Sunday. It’s worth the effort though. I plonked a chair down at Amen Corner early on Saturday, and at the 18th green on Sunday morning and came back to sit in it for the final few hours of each day.
The food and drink outlets are also a wonder. The prices haven’t moved on much since the 80’s with sandwiches costing somewhere between $1.50 and $3.00. A soft drink will have you forking out $2 and a ‘beer’ in a plastic cup will set you back just $5. And what’s more all the plastic cups have a Masters logo on it which patrons collect in large quantities for extra souvenirs.
Without doubt the most ingenious part of these huge concession stands comes when your standing in the queue. With plenty of patrons in attendance, queuing is unavoidable but each line comes with its own Masters employee who stands at the end of the queue with a tall sign indicating not just the end of the line, but how long you’ll have to wait from that point.
Psychologically it’s a genius idea as
humans patrons will wait in the queue happier when they know exactly how long they have to wait. But all the talk about the amazing Pimento Cheese sandwiches? Sure they’re $1.50, fill a hole and very much part of the Masters tradition, but we found them a little underwhelming.
The toilets, bathrooms… restrooms, whatever
Those “how long you have to wait” signs are also at the end of the queues to the toilets at The Masters which makes waiting, or jiggling, just that bit easier. But going to the toilet at The Masters isn’t like going to the toilet anywhere else thanks to some great entertainment from the Masters’ staff.
You’ll be ushered through the queue and into the toilets with some cracking one-liners that gets everyone laughing. The few I remember include; “We’ve got a sitter!”, after being told a patron needs to use a stall instead of the urinal, “A stall does it all!”, “We’ve got one on the back nine!” as a patron is finishing up and lastly, “You’ve got 20 seconds. Ten seconds to find it and 10 seconds to drain it!”
The store and merchandise
If you’re looking for more than just a beer cup to take away as a souvenir from The Masters then the golf shop is the place to go. It’s worth a look just for the sheer scale of the place. My only gripe was that most of the cool caps were sold out early on Saturday thanks to many patron buying up big. Real big. So get there early in the week.
All the golf specific apparel is of great quality, but we found the street-style t-shirts lacking in quality. Good for a handful of wears down the local café to show where you’ve been the last few weeks but soon enough you’ll be painting the house in it. And just remember that a ‘Large’ sized shirt in the US is often a size or two bigger in the US than in Australia.
No phones, free phones
Don’t even think about bringing your mobile phone to Augusta National. They’re banned. And with very few people wearing a watch these days it makes for some interesting old-fashioned meet-up’s if your trying to find some friends on the golf course. “Let’s meet at the tenth tee just after Jason Day has gone through,” was one I heard from the patrons.
And while it does mean you’re often not sure what the current leaderboard looks like, it does tend to mean you end up watching more golf and generally much more focused on what is going on around you. It’s quite pleasant and refreshing to be honest.
But what if you want to call a friend and tell them that you’re at The Masters?! You can simply use one of the on-course phones. The phones are free to use and call anywhere in the world, but if you call Australia and wake up the family in the early hours of the morning you’ll be sure to pay for it when you get home.