There is something about The Masters at Augusta National that makes it no different from the San Diego Zoo, Disney’s Magic Kingdom or the Indiana State Fair. Stand by the exits at day’s end and you will glimpse a bit of sulking and bickering. Among all the smiles you’ll hear bickering, vain apologies or words of disappointment—from people who messed up a good thing. Fair-going and tournament-watching may be leisure activities, but you can still make a hash of them.
And while I envy anyone their first glimpses of the Masters Tournament’s lush spectacle, I wince at how much time, energy and shoe leather I wasted in the days before I learned the ropes and became a cagey Masters spectator.
Snagging a badge, finding hotel rooms, battling the traffic—that you must do on your own. But once you arrive for a practice day or one of the competitive rounds, you first-timers need to know how to zig when you should zig and zag when it’s time to zag. Here’s the lowdown, in nine simple steps:
1. Stop and shop? You wait 20 years to see the Masters, then you enter the gates and face an immediate problem: The friends you came with want to hang right there at the pavilion and spend a half-hour shopping for souvenirs. Better to have negotiated this in advance, especially if one of the non-shoppers was intending to stride off lustfully on a full-18 sequential tour. With no cell-phone contact, rendezvous-ing won’t be easy.
2. The Carnival Midway: Parallel to the 18th fairway is a swath of land (it’s a driving range for the members) used as the main thoroughfare for all galleryites. Because you spend so much time on it, you’ll get constant glimpses of the first, eighth and ninth fairways, which rise away from you in most directions. If you just keep walking and talking, you’ll end up at Amen Corner. Just be sure not to overuse this route.
3. Ideal First Stop: Get yourself a higher-up viewing spot near the second green and spend 45 minutes watching mortar-shell second shots, splendid high wedges from the layup zone and desperate recovery pitches to an icy green. The mood here is usually relaxed and upbeat.
4. Swing back to the Range: Before you get all the way down to the far end of the property, mosey back to the grandstands behind the practice tee. Remember, the brain of any Augusta gallery member toggles between wanting to see players and wanting to see the golf course being played. Keep a balance—40 minutes watching the guys beat balls is a good dosage.
5. Get the Magnolia Lane Thing Over With: That slow drive down Magnolia Lane for a Masters contestant must indeed be a thrill. Those of us who have walked up the lane toward Washington Road, then turned around and started hoofing it toward the clubhouse, expecting goosebumps, usually just feel dumb. But you have to do it.
6. Choose Par-4s with a Little Intimacy: Augusta fairways tend to be so wide, you don’t often get close to a contestant playing an approach. Holes 3 and 4 are great for just looking at course features—the hollows, humps and bunkers, including those bodacious Perry Maxwell bunkers fronting the 7th green. You’ll also hear some quiet cussin.’
7. Keep Your Wits about You on Wednesday: If your first-ever day at the Masters is a Wednesday, postpone that full-18 hike and plan your day around the par-3 tournament. The par-3 course is tucked over in some rugged topography that’s part Hickory Hollow and part Moonshine Mountain. And it’s not like they make an announcement on the P.A. that the 3-par is about to start. If you’re down at Amen Corner staring at the Hogan Bridge you’ll miss the fun.
8. The Fifth Hole is Area 51, the Sixth is Woodstock: Part of attending a Masters in person is seeing the scale, the contours and the sight lines that television still can’t replicate. So, take a walk down No. 5 fairway, which can only be seen from one side. You’ll be surprised how remote-feeling and deserted it is, but don’t worry. A few minutes later you’ll be at No. 6, a golf hole where you can actually sit down in the middle of the hole corridor and watch shots fly over you.
9. Prime Viewing and Worth the Wait. My No. 1 Masters viewing spot is the upper right-hand corner of the grandstand set up right of the 15th green. You may have to wait three hours for the first players to come through, but then the next three or four hours will fly by, as you watch constant action on the most exciting par-3 and par-4 ANGC has to offer.