You have to be there to soak in Augusta’s splendour
THE IRC’S ‘SHANKS AND LIPOUTS’ COLUMN
Every Sunday, to subscribers
As US Masters fever gains momentum, anyone who has been fortunate enough to attend the first major of the year will surely look back fondly on what is a truly a unique experience. I have had the pleasure of attending a few US Masters championships, and this should be on every golf fan’s bucket list. Sure, we have all seen this spectacular golf course on television, but nothing beats being there.
To begin with, the first shock is to travel along a wide throughfare (Washington Road) bordering the walled, exclusive club which could be anywhere in the US, strip malls with liquor stores, used car dealers and the usual fast-food outlets. I dare say that any golfer visiting Augusta for the first time might be a little disappointed – the town looks decidedly down-at-heel and seems unworthy of being the home of what is probably the most famous golf course in the world.
Once inside this hallowed club (and believe me, it must be easier gaining entrance to the White House), one is in a different world. To say that the course and surrounding gardens are pristine would be a gross understatement – this is as good as it gets. It must be remembered that course is closed for much of the year, and preparations for their big event begins months before – with the help of hundreds of volunteers. First impressions besides the perfect conditioning are the dramatic changes in elevation, something television cameras cannot portray.
There are no garish advertising banners, (any form of commercialism is frowned upon here), and the thousands of patrons, (they are referred to as patrons and not spectators), speak in hushed tones and move around at a leisurely pace. Amazingly, those that enter the course early enough, will place their chairs (only approved US Masters chairs are allowed) at their favourite spot, drape their cashmere sweaters and expensive binoculars on them, and wander off. Nobody would dare move these chairs much less make off with whatever might be lying on them. This must be a golf-watchers Utopia.
The facility housing the Masters merchandise is something to behold – a veritable hyperstore of Augusta National-branded goods for sale at very reasonable prices. Adjoining this huge temporary structure is an area where purchases can be left in sealed bags – either for pick up on the way out at the end of the days play, or to be posted to the customer’s home address.
A popular spot is the practice area – marshals control entry to this area, which also must be seen to be believed. The target greens are constructed to the exact specifications as those on the course, and turf where the players hit shots from could be mistaken for an oversized putting surface. One player who was competing in his first Masters told me that he felt guilty about taking divots out of this carpet-like practise tee.
There is something very civilised about this whole event, and the sharp-eyed security (in plain clothes), are quick to remove anyone who fails to adhere to the strict behavioural rules. This very seldom happens. When someone is removed, their ticket is confiscated. These tickets, which have more security features than a $100 bill, can be traced to the original owner. If for instance, they originate from the patrons list, this person will never again be issued with tickets.
Other tickets are issued to members, players, media and people who have entered a lottery run by Augusta National. Suffice it to say there is a high demand for these tickets, and touts do a roaring trade during Masters week. More than few fans have been sold forgeries, which have no chance of making it through the security checks.
Obviously as the only club that hosts a major championship, Augusta National has had plenty practise on getting it right, and the infrastructure here is mind-boggling. For example, there are no television cables visible – they are all underground. Should there be unusually high rainfall before or during the event, a sophisticated drainage system can pump the water off the course. One year during the tournament, there was violent thunderstorm at 2.00am which brought down a huge pine tree. By 7.00 am when the gates opened, the tree had been removed and replaced by an exact replica. As one greenkeeper told me after his visit to Augusta – “This place is fairyland.”
As happens every year, there is the usual “breaking news” before Augusta week, and this year it has been the story of Phil Mickelson not playing in the Masters for the first time in almost 30 years. Whether this is because of his continued, self-imposed exile after his thoughtless remarks, or because he was quietly told to make himself scarce by the powers that be, we don’t know. I personally don’t care whether Mickelson plays or not.
An abiding memory of mine is seeing some rather amusing graffiti painted on a wall in the town of Augusta: “One miserable green jacket a year – you call this a living? Cohen’s tailors, Augusta, Georgia.” -IRC.