Masters Tournament Secret Stories

Isn’t it amazing how the small voice of a child can be the loudest imaginable?

I covered the Masters Tournament, in Augusta, Georgia, a number of times as a freelance writer. While the grounds inside the famed golf club are pristine, the surroundings in Augusta are not always as manicured and idyllic.

My first trip to cover the Masters was a somewhat gritty visit. As a member of the Golf Writers Association of America, I knew I wanted to participate in the annual Wednesday morning meeting in the club’s media center, walk the course, and, in the evening, attend the GWAA Awards Dinner that evening in downtown Augusta. Both of those gatherings would feature the world’s greatest golf writers and editors, important personalities, and famous players. So, as a rookie writer and a newbie to the golf writers association, I was determined to network at those events.

So I invited myself to the party.

I didn’t have a hotel reservation. I was naïve and, perhaps optimistic, thinking I would simply pop into town and pick a hotel. On a tight budget, I drove overnight timed my 14-hour drive from Michigan to arrive in town early Wednesday morning and go straight to the golf course. With my media credential, I got to Augusta National just after dawn, and followed my plan for the day to the letter. After walking the glorious course all day in the sun and watching some of Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player at the famed Par-3 Tournament, I was getting sleepy. After all, given the long overnight drive, I had been awake for more than 24 hours. I decided it was time to find a hotel, catch a nap, shower, shave, and get a jacket and tie on for the evening reception and dinner. I hoofed it back to the front parking lot and began my quest.

Now you will hear of people who have been to the Masters talk about the charming Partridge Inn in Augusta. It is, as described, a picture postcard, southern-style inn with a popular porch. But after the quaint, tiny Partridge Inn, most of the hotels in Augusta, especially on Washington Road near the golf club, are of the standard chain variety, ranging from Holiday Inn to Best Western and the like.

Exhausted, sun burned, and spent, I learned that afternoon that the only thing harder to score than a ticket to the Masters is a hotel room in Augusta during Masters week. All of the nearby, obvious choices were sold out, even though they’d charged inflated prices and insisted on four-day minimums. Without the Internet, I wearily drove from hotel to hotel to hotel only to get the same answer at the front desks: “no room at the inn.”

I began to panic because, at minimum, I needed a place to shower and get dressed before the important dinner event! I could sleep in my car if all else failed, but I certainly couldn’t shower in it. The clock was ticking, and so were my prospects for a nap before dinner time.

Finally, somewhere south of the club, in a dodgy part of town well separated from any of the festivities of the Masters, I walked into Days Inn that presumably had seen better days: faded, peeling paint, worn carpets, and streaky, smudged windows. The good news was, this fleabag had a vacancy. The bad news? Even this broken down barracks was charging $240 for the night. Desperate and nearly sleepwalking, I resigned myself to the fact that it would only be for one night and checked in.

I parked my car next to the door of my room and, with just enough time to shower in the tiny bathroom, went off to the reception and dinner, where I spent time holding myself up long enough to shake hands with CBS Sports’ Jim Nantz, PGA of America CEO Jim Awtrey, LPGA Tour stars Se Ri Pak and Karrie Webb, and as many other dignitaries as I could.

By the time I got back to the room at 10 p.m., I fell into, or, given its hardness, onto the bed. The pillows seemed as thin as the walls, and, from the next room, any chance of a peaceful slumber was suddenly disrupted by the plaintive wail of a child and the shrill retorts of her mother.

“Mommy, I’m thirsty.”

“Be quiet and go to sleep.”

“But mommy, I’m thirsty!”

“Did you hear me? I said go to sleep now!”

A moment or two of silence was interrupted by an ongoing repeat of the same argument. The child became more and more insistent. The mother got angrier and angrier.

“Mommy, please, I’m thirsty!”

“Listen to me now. I mean it. Be quiet, stop asking, and go to sleep!”

I couldn’t take it any longer…so I invited myself to their party.

I threw open my covers, slipped on some shoes, and marched out of my hotel room. I dragged myself down the breezeway around the corner to the front desk, where I got change for two dollars. I then went to the vending machine and bought a can of Hawaiian Punch. Quietly then, I walked back past my room, around the corner and placed the can of punch in front of the hotel room housing the mean mom and the thirsty child. I knocked on the door and then ran back around the corner into my room and jumped into bed in time to hear the mother open her room door. Then I heard her door closing…and the sound of the can popping open.

Then…blissfully…I heard nothing…for the rest of the night!

In subsequent trips to Augusta for the Masters Tournament, I became a bit more savvy about where to stay and how to manage the week. People sometimes ask me which was my favorite Masters Tournament? That answer is easy.

Instead of staying in an overpriced hotel, I was invited to stay in a rented home near the golf club with two colorful golf professionals Michael Kernicki, from Wuskowhan Players Club; Dick Stewart, from Kalamazoo Country Club; both past-presidents of the PGA of America’s Michigan Section, and their friend Tom Weibel, from Grand Rapids.

Who needed a wake up call? At 6:30 a.m., we were all awakened the sound of Dick Stewart’s footsteps running up and down the stairs in his underwear, and the sound of his voice shouting, “Mr. Gene done made a two on #15! Mr. Gene done made a two on #15!”

This was in reference to Gene Sarazen’s famed double-eagle on the par-five 15th hole in 1935 during the second Masters Tournament ever contested. Without the aid of television, the only way for members in the clubhouse to know what was happening on the course was via the “bush telegraph:” people running around the course telling each other what happened. “Mr. Gene done made a two on #15! Mr. Gene done made a two on #15!”

We all stumbled down the stairs in search of coffee, tea, or maybe an eye-opening Bloody Mary, and switched on the television. The local Augusta cable system, as a public service, was running a crawl on the bottom of screen: “Masters Tournament first round play previously scheduled for today has been postponed due to wet course conditions as a result of heavy rains. First round play will begin on Friday morning. Augusta National Golf Club is closed for the day.”

At first, we were disappointed. No golf action. But, the more we thought about it, we came to realize the rainout meant this meant would be a full day on the town with each other and the thousands of golf fans and people in the golf industry who now had nothing else to do! It was an all-day party at Augusta’s watering holes such as the Partridge Inn and the French Market Grille. It was like a tailgate party without a football game to get to! And it all wrapped up at a party thrown by the Irish Tourist Board in a private home that evening.

That…was my favorite day at “The Masters!”

Read all of our great stories on by writers as we cover The Masters.

One Response to “Masters Tournament Secret Stories”

  1. Justin

    For being a “travel writer” you should expect without much surprise that hotels charge increased fares during peak periods and surrounding popular events. This is not unique to Augusta and the Masters, it’s standard practice in the hospitality industry. You were foolish enough to make the mistake of not booking in advance so you got stuck with what was available, albeit not ideal accommodations. It’s funny you expect the whole of Augusta to be an extension of the prestine Augusta National. It’s a city where working class individuals of all types live, just like any other city. It’s not some elite town that’s exempt from fast food restaurants, retail chains, and dingy hotels. It appears by your writing that you expected and assumed that Augusta was some magical fairytale land with its crown jewel being the Augusta National Golf Club. And if you’re favorite day at the Masters was in fact not spent at the Masteds but instead drinking and partying all day then you obviously are doing something terribly wrong.

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