The Masters you see on TV is a very pretty sight, but it’s nothing compared to what it’s like being there in person.
I was able to attend the Tuesday practice round of the Masters in 2014, thanks to a buddy who won the ticket lottery and had an extra ticket.
My buddy grew up in Augusta and had been to the tournament many times. It was great having a local tour guide.
Words and photos don’t really do Augusta National justice, but I’ll try my best to explain what it’s like walking around there.
I’d been to a few golf tournaments before. In 2013, I went to the Thursday round of the U.S. Open at Merion. I also covered the Barclays in Jersey City for Business Insider.
Those are both nice events, but they’re nothing like the Masters. It’s a completely different experience, from the food to the crowds to — most important — the course. If you like golf at all, you owe it yourself to go there at least once.
Let me show you why …
Here are the practice-round tickets. We (my friends and I) started the day in Atlanta and drove 2.5 hours out to Augusta.
As we got closer to the course, we saw people looking for tickets. I was told that there is some weird law that says you can't say you're buying or selling tickets, but you can say you need tickets.
Just outside the Masters, there are all sorts of trailers and tents for companies like Puma, Keurig, and Izod. It feels like a big event is happening.
Take a good look at the first item on that list. No mobile phones allowed! All day I was reaching into my front left pocket for an iPhone that wasn't there. It wasn't too bad, to be honest, but coordinating to meet people is pretty much impossible.
I'm not sure why warning needs to be in quotes here, but thanks for the heads-up! My friend said that you can hang around the event at the end of the day (after 3 p.m.) and people who are leaving will give you their tickets so you can get in and take a look. If they want the ticket for a souvenir, you just promise that you'll mail it to them.
Checking in is a lot like going to Six Flags Great Adventure or Disney World. Except for old white guys.
The first real look at the place! We get to see the excellent practice facility. In the distance is a driving range, and nearby are putting and chipping areas.
Past the practice facility, we're funneled into the main village area. There are concessions and a pro shop. Both have monster lines out of them already.
Augusta National is a very hilly course. More than you realise watching it on TV. As a result of the elevation changes, you get some really spectacular views. This is the ninth green, and in the distance you can see more of the course.
This is a view from the top of the 10th tee. Without question, this is the best-looking hole on the course. It's an insane winding drop from the tee box to the green. It's a giant green slide that twists to the left off the tee.
At the bottom of the 10th hole, I went to the spot where Bubba Watson hit his hooking wedge in the 2012 playoff. There's no plaque or any kind of marker for the exact spot of the shot. People were milling about checking it out. This shot was nuts. When you stand in the spot he hit it, you realise how good his shot really was.
On the green at 10 were Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Jason Dufner, and Rickie Fowler. Fowler and Mickelson were playing Johnson and Dufner in a match. During his press conference, Mickelson said Fowler shot 30 on the back nine, to beat Johnson and Dufner.
Here's another look at 10, this time from the bottom of the green looking back up the hole. Hopefully this photo conveys (at least a little) what this hole looks like. It's really spectacular.
This is the pond in front of the par 5, 15th hole. There's a crosswalk, and you can just walk out and snap a photo of the green. It's a little like being in a museum. But for golf nerds.
I forget which hole this was. Maybe 7? Anyway, it's Rory McIlroy hitting an approach into the green as amateur Matthew Fitzpatrick looks on.
Up near the green is another one of the fantastic Masters' scoreboards. In the bottom right of the photo, you see one of the members at the club. Those guys are the coolest at the tournament, even cooler than the players. They're members at one of the most elite and fantastic golf clubs in the world. The players are just golfers.
One of the most surprising things about Augusta National is how well it's routed. The holes run right next to each other. So here, you can see the green on the left, then another hole running up the hill, and then farther on the left is the second fairway and green (I believe). It's a big piece of property, but it feels small because the holes are near each other, and there are great views all around.
Here's another photo to illustrate the elevation changes. This is the par 5 eighth hole. Look at how low the players are. They have to bomb it up that hill to get to the green.
The grass! It's a lush carpet of green goodness. I was, frankly, a little surprised at how fluffy the grass is. Sometimes, I'll play courses with tight fairways and it feels so thin that it's a bit weird hitting off the ground. Augusta National's fairways are well maintained but not so thin and tight that it would be weird to unsettling to hit from the short stuff.
And if you think the grass at Augusta just happens … here's a photo of a lawn from a few blocks away. This is what the real world looks like.
The sandwich is better than you could ever imagine. I have no idea what pimento is, but I know it's awesome. It's a creamy, rich, flavorful sandwich.
Back out on the course, this is at the midpoint of the eighth tee. On TV, you see so many trees lining the fairways that you don't realise the sweeping vistas you get at the course. You can see across the property.
This is Angel Cabrera working on his sand shots at the 16th hole. At a practice round, the guys take a variety sand shots, they chip and put to spots where they think the pins will be during the event. It's not too interesting to watch, to be honest.
After Cabrera hit his sand shots, he had sand all over the green. These maintenance guys come out with this long bending black stick and sweep away all the sand, making the greens green and smooth once again.
If you have to pick one spot to hang out during the practice round, I highly recommend the 16th tee. There's a big pond in front of the par 3 hole. As players walk up to the pond, the gallery starts shouting 'Skip it! Skip it!' There's a tradition of players skipping a shot across the water and onto the green. Here, Vijay Singh is skipping his shot. They all make the skip look pretty easy. The 16th tee is the only hole on the course during the practice round that leads to loud cheers that can be heard all over the grounds.
Augusta National puts ice on the roots of the flowers to make sure they don't bloom too soon. When the tournament ends, they take the ice off and let the flowers pop. (At least that's what I was told.)
This view is from the footpath near the sixth hole. You can see the green of the par 3 16th from here.
Pro tip! There's a pro shop behind the fifth hole that is virtually empty. The main pro shop near the first hole has a long winding line. If you're ever at the Masters, go to the shop at the fifth hole.
While the Masters is quite generous with its sandwich prices, its merchandise isn't all that cheap. A polo runs between $80 and $100. This is expensive, but really, it's not horribly out of line for how much golf shirts cost at nice courses.
This is another great Masters quirk. It has a board that tells you who is on the range and who is on the course. Since nothing is electronic there, it's done by hand, with information relayed walkie-talkies.
There isn't a single piece of trash on the ground at the Masters. How? There's an army of kids running around with little spikes picking up anything that hits the ground.
Heading back toward the first hole, near the end of the day, you can see grounds crews grooming the bunkers. And once again, take a look in the distance. You can see a lot of the property.
Now, this being Augusta National, you wouldn't expect to see this, but here it is. If it were a tech conference, these women would be called 'booth babes.' They're with an online video network. And lots of dudes were posing for photos.
It turns out these aren't any old booth babes, though. This is Audrina from 'The Hills.' Here she is posing with one Augusta's finest locals.
This was one of the saddest signs at the tournament. Tiger Woods was listed as invitee who will not play. He's back this year.
And that's that, folks! A full day walking around the Masters. It's unlike anything else, and you really ought to do it yourself, if possible.
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