It’s finally here!! Golf’s first and perhaps most endearing major of the year. Why is it that The Masters is such a huge fan favorite for golf fans? The reasons may be too numerous to count…but I will do my best to run down some of the traditions which are unique to the annual tourney at Augusta National. I will give you a perspective both from the TV viewing public and one from a patron fortunate enough to have been there several times on practice days.
For starters The Masters is the first major of the year. The official start of spring for a lot of golf fans. It’s the only major held at the same course every year which gives it a rich history and a fan connection. Augusta was just voted as the #1 course in America for the 2nd straight year. There are few commercials during the coverage which is always welcome to any viewer. Winners are invited for life so we usually get to see one of the old fogies near the leaderboard for at least a couple of days. There is the tradition of letting some of the all time greats start the tourney on the first tee. The interviews in the Butler Cabin. The amateurs staying in the Crowe’s Nest. The Par 3 competition on Wednesday and the winner of that having a jinx of never winning the actual tourney. Back 9 finishing holes usually lend to an exciting finish with plenty of birdies. Amen Corner and much much more.
I would like to take you on a walk through the main gate at the top of the course and around some of the crowd hangouts on practice days to give you a feel for the aura. You walk through the main gate and the first thing you see is probably the concession stand in front of you. Look to the left and there are restrooms but look through the bushes to the left and above them you can see the clubhouse. Take about 5 steps onto the grass and immediately to the right is the first tee. Down the right hand side of that fairway is Butler Cabin where the post tourney interviews are performed. Off to your immediate left is the practice putting green. Behind and to the left is the clubhouse and a big oak tree where you will see cameras set up for player interviews with national media.
Take about 5 more steps straight forward and you will be overlooking the approach shots of players rounding the turn at the 9th green on the right. As you look down you will notice you are probably about 50-100 feet above them on the fairway below. The 9th green is probably 25-50 feet above the players in the low part of the fairway. From this vantage point you can see forever as it is the highest point on the course. Look straight ahead and you will see a vast expanse of openness like on no other course that comes to mind. A huge chunk of land below is not even being used for actual holes…you could hold a concert there and not interrupt play on the course. That spot is probably 100-200 feet below your toes at the bottom. Look over to your left and you can see 18 green a little further off…maybe 30 yards and 11 fairway beyond that.
So we will take a left from here and walk in between the putting green and the 18th green and around the backside of the clubhouse. The first thing you run into off to the right is the par three course which is in amazing shape. Keep curling around the clubhouse and you will see some practice area and then you will come upon Magnolia Lane. Looking down through those trees is like looking down a tunnel and it gives you a bit of a chill to think of all the players to have come through there. It’s probably a couple hundred yards long. Of course Magnolia Lane leads up to the clubhouse and in front of that is a prime photo shoot where there are yellow flowers in the shape of the US and a flag situated in the heart of GA. The backdrop of your photo is the clubhouse which IMO is a humble building all things considered. Walk a little further up and you will get to see the driving range which is situated between the walk up from the street to the main gate and Magnolia Lane.
So back around the clubhouse we go to the left and I skip the walk over to #10 and head down the 11th fairway which is parallel to the 18th. Amen Corner! About midway you take a look back at the tee box which seems a mile away and the golfers look like ants from here. Look toward the green and you see the 12th tee and green in the background. There is a small pond off to the left of 11 green but there is a unique plateau short and to the right which is some 10-15 feet above the green. Most approach shots will error on the right and feed down off of that. A good 300 yard drive and your reward is only a 200 yard approach with water on left…ho hum.
On to the stands behind the 12th tee…a popular hangout. The infamous par three over Rae’s Creek is the first thing many fans want to see. Love to hang out here for a bit and watch some golfers play through. You can see the 13th tee back and to the right but you can’t really get there as a spectator so you have to head down the right side of 13 fairway and set up shop where the drives are landing. It’s a big dogleg and a huge banking fairway down and to the left where a large majority of drives will end up. From there a mid iron or fairway metal over Rae’s Creek again. The backdrop of 13 is absolutely gorgeous with a mixture of white sand bunkers, trees, azaleas and the greenest grass on planet Earth.
From here I skip 14 and head over to the 15th green and 16th tee. There are two stands on either side of 15 green and one along side 16 tee and pond. Another big hangout for fans. You get to see approach shots into 15 with plenty of eagle and birdie chances. Then as the players get to 16 is when some traditional fun starts. The players tee off on the par three 16 over the pond. When they get done the crowd starts to chant “skip it…skiiiiiip it….skip it”. A clear sign to the players to drop a ball in front of the pond at the bank and attempt to skip a ball across the water onto the green if they can. I have been there a few times and on sunny days there will be some turtles basking right on the front edge where the balls will likely skip up if they are on line. I haven’t seen one hit yet but have seen balls get lodged into the bank within inches of them and careen past them several times. If a player’s ball makes the green…a huge roar erupts from the crowd. Lot’s of fun on 16 during practice rounds.
From there I skip 17 (no pun intended) and head to 18th tee. Taking a look down that chute is awe inspiring if not for just seeing it so often on TV. After watching a few tee shots I walk up 18 fairway to get another look at the huge undulations on these greens. Watching golfers putt on this course is amazing seeing the speed and break some of them have. Many of the greens are severely elevated to boot so missed shots can end up back at your feet in many areas. Now we are back up at the clubhouse.
The course is absolutely stunning both from a visual standpoint and a conditioning standpoint. The smells of spring are all over. White dogwoods, azaleas, magnolias and luscious green throughout. The patrons are treated to low price food and beverage perhaps nothing more coveted than the pimento cheese sandwiches. Official memorabilia can only be bought at the course and there is a wide variety in the shops surrounding the course.
All in all it’s an experience I will never forget. If you haven’t been there go one time…please. You won’t be disappointed!