This Masters will be my 33rd covering the tournament. My first was in 1984, the year Ben Crenshaw won his first green jacket. I missed one year due to a trip to Italy to visit our daughter who was studying abroad for a semester. Over the years, I’ve tried to lend some tips and general advice for those lucky enough to land tickets in the lottery for the practice rounds. With a few exceptions, my suggestions don’t change inasmuch as the Masters is resolute and consistent in its presentation. Just in case, if there’s a reader out there traveling to Augusta next week for a cherished first visit, I’ll share some of my humble counsel. Others readers can go along for the ride.
By the way, when the tournament starts on Thursday, Jackson’s Brian Stuard will be Michigan’s first pro qualifier in the Masters since John Morse in 1996.
Okay, back to those tips:
It’s usually hot so I simply advise to wear comfortable golf clothing as if someone were playing golf at a nice club. Dress up a little—it’s the Masters! Unless the weather is unseasonably cool, definitely wear shorts because you’ll be walking hills and working up a sweat. To beat the heat and the harsh sun, bring sunblock, lip balm, and a wide-brimmed hat. I often urge a small fanny pack to carry some of these items as well securing car keys and the like. If steady rain is in the forecast, bring along a good Gore-Tex rain suit, an umbrella and water-proof golf shoes. If there’s only a 20-30% chance of rain, then one of those cheap and compact rain ponchos is a good idea. Regardless, wear comfortable golf shoes with fresh soft-spikes because if it does get wet, the undulating terrain can get slippery. For practice rounds only, you may bring a camera but not an i-Phone or digital device. Have to stay in touch with your office? No problem, the Masters provides banks of free telephones throughout the course. One more essential item: a small pair of binoculars.
Okay, you’re inside the hallowed gates of the Masters, what’s your plan? Some people go directly to the main merchandise building and make their purchases. You can then check them nearby for free until the end of the day or ship it for standard charges. And some people simply take all of the stuff back to the car and be done with it. Other patrons can’t wait to get on the course so they make their purchases at noon or at the end of the day. If there’s a chance of thunderstorms later in the day, make your purchases early because dangerous weather can result in patrons being forced to leave the grounds.
In terms of seeing the course, whatever route you choose will be fine. Relax and don’t rush the experience. Walk the entire course and take it all in. Let the course, not players, dictate your schedule. Some people tour the course in order while others like to do it in reverse when the back nine is not so crowded.
I like to walk a few holes and then take a seat in one of many observation stands spread throughout the course. Some suggested ones are at no. 1, 5, 8, 12, 13, 14 and 16. At the fifth green, there’s an added benefit of being not far from a wonderful patron area near Gate 9 offering merchandise, concessions and restrooms.
Many people like to stand behind the tee at the par-five 8th hole to witness a drive by one of the big hitters in the game like Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm etc. In the “old days” of Tiger Woods’ reign, you’d have to get there at least two groups before he arrived at the tee.
A new custom is to visit the spot off the 10th fairway where Bubba Watson hit his famed hooked wedge shot against Louis Oosterhuis in 2012. How he did it still baffles me whenever I see it. Usually, there’s a marshall or security guard in the area to pinpoint the location.
Another tee location, one that’s not crowded due to the climb, is behind the 11th tee, normally one of hardest holes on the course. This tee demands a backward hike up a hill but the view from there is worth it. Television doesn’t do it justice in terms of how narrow and tight the fairway appears. The other advantage is that caddies usually don’t go back to the tee, instead staying down off the fairway. One year, Ray Floyd’s caddie supposedly was fired on the spot when he tossed an “extra ball” to his boss as he was making his way back to the tee. In Floyd’s thinking, the caddie just sent a negative signal prior to the next drive. Or so the story goes.
On most practice days, and especially on Tuesday, spend some time near the tee at 16. It’s a tradition for players here to try to skip shots across the pond and onto the green.
In addition to the course itself—admittedly the main attraction— I always urge time to explore around the clubhouse, the putting green, parts of the par-three course and definitely the expansive practice range.
In recent years, the Masters has provided a nifty service to patrons wanting their picture taken near the famed Founders Circle, located in front of the clubhouse at the end of Magnolia Lane. Here the Masters and club logo is beautifully formed by yellow pansies. People line up for a staffed photo which later can be digitally accessed.
Finally, as the free Spectator Guide urges in a massive understatement, “Have a pleasant day and enjoy your visit to Augusta National Golf Club.”
Image courtesy of the Masters