The coronation of Jordan Spieth as the next Lion King provided the perfect backdrop for our first experience at Augusta National. Watching him handle himself with a combination of athletic virtuosity and personal grace was something to behold. His arrival to contend with the Irish Prince portends great things for the game in the post-Eldrick era.
We witnessed a lot of this on Friday and SaturdayEmbed from Getty Images
For us it started early in the morning on Thursday while catching our flight down to Atlanta. We knew that every person wearing a Titlelist hat or a FootJoy wind shirt was heading for the show. A pair of millennials from South Boston were handing out their own version of Master’s memorabilia.
There are Masters Do’s and Don’ts and you do not want to do the Don’ts. On real tournament days no cell phones, cameras, outside food, unauthorized chairs (those with arm rests), backpacks, or even handbags over 10 inches across. No autograph seeking on the course…no matter how cute your 10-year old is. The age of Osama has brought the mandatory metal detector moment for each patron walking through the gate….at least you don’t have to take off your belt and shoes.
Once on the grounds the first impression is how expansively green, impeccably manicured, and drop dead gorgeous the place is. The flora is beyond description, the azaleas are so oversized as to make you think they were genetically engineered. The stark white bunkering accentuates the emerald fairways, every blade of grass has been trimmed in the last 18 hours. If it were not for tens of thousands of patrons meandering about you could swear the place was originally a tree nursery…..which it was.
Augusta National pays homage to all the elements of nature’s beauty
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Even the pine straw under the towering stands of pine trees seems like it has been fluffed for the day’s play.
And meticulously manages whatever nature cannot handle herselfEmbed from Getty Images
The second impression is how hilly the place is-it is by no means an easy walk even if the most cumbersome thing you are carrying is a beer and a pimento/cheese sandwich. The elevation changes begin instantly off the tee of #1 and #10 ….Franz Klammer would feel at home staring over the edge from the tenth tee box.
From the high ground of the 1st tee the property plummets below eventually down to Amen Corner
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More startling than the elevation changes of the holes are the intense topographical features in the green complexes. HD does not do it justice. The bunkers, swales, and hollows that surround the greens collect any timid approaches. The severe slopes and terracing of the green surfaces themselves require a dramatically different approach line for each day’s pin placement. One cannot fail to recognize that these complex green arrangements seriously mitigate the intended size of the driving area on the seemingly sprawling fairways. Tactically considered pinpoint driving position is the ticket to birdie opportunities at Augusta National. Those approaches that do not work out lead to diabolical up-and-down challenges.
Spieth’s Friday approach pitch into the 2nd Green-it was anything but simpleEmbed from Getty Images
It does not take long to realize that the entire emphasis of the membership that put on this major championship is to make the patron experience as enjoyable as possible. Clifford Roberts, an early adopter of the term “Continuous Quality Improvement”, set this standard from the tournament’s inception in 1934. To this day, a almost 30 years after his death, the powers that be still ask “what would Cliff think” when they are making a decision about the management of the event.Embed from Getty Images
This is embraced by the Green Jacket volunteers, wealthy CEO’s and celebrities whose weekly pay stub have six figures on them yet freely offer their time for a week to answer questions and offer advice to anyone patron who needs it. Every employee from retail clerks, to food service people, to the folks who wipe down the sinks in the public restrooms immediately after you finish washing your hands ask you if you are enjoying your day at The Masters. This is a total commitment to the patron experience.
Condi explaining to Lindsey Vonn that this might not have been the most appropriate clothing decision for a golf tournamentEmbed from Getty Images
Masters rules and traditions are unique and give this tournament a character all it’s own. The limited number of tickets insures that all patrons can move about comfortably to follow the golf. There are plenty of planned and designated places from which to view the action. The grandstands often sit in places where you can watch the action on multiple holes. These are not your typical bleachers but have comfy molded backed seats where you can sit and watch for hours.
An Amen Corner Three-For: Putting on 11, Approach to 12, and Tee Ball on 13.
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Or you can spend about fifty bucks to buy the Authorized Master’s Canvas Fold-up Chair to take advantage of a very hospitable practice at Augusta. You write your name on the back of your chair in Sharpie and then when the gates open in the morning each day you walk……do not run…..to the place where you would like your Authorized Master’s Chair to remain all day until you are ready to sit in it.
As you can see there are large designated viewing areas to place your Authorized Master’s Chair which will guarantee you an intimate view of the action. The coolest part, no one will sit in your chair all day. You can place it, spend the morning walking the course following your favorites, and return to the chair that awaits you next to the 16th green to watch the final groups come through in the late afternoon. It is like having your own personal reserved box seat.Embed from Getty Images
The regular grounds ticket comes with free parking across the street from the club. When was the last professional sporting event you attended where the parking was free? The food pavilions are plentiful about the course with a full selection of sandwiches, munchies, drinks, and beer at 1978 prices. Take a gander at the price list:
Sandwiches: $1.50 – $3.00
Water/iced tea: $1.50
Beer: $4.00 domestic, $5.00 imported (Not available on the main course after 4 p.m.)
They even have fresh fruit, nuts, and a pack of baby carrots for 75 cents…..you cannot find baby carrots at a Wawa for 75 cents. The lines can be long but the logistics are so efficient that your wait is rarely longer than 5 to 10 minutes at times of peak demand. You have not seen operational efficiency like this outside of Disneyworld.
The cheap beer does encourage lots of domestic and imported consumption, which should surprise no one at a sporting event. Apparently there is an unwritten tradition among male patrons to collect the commemorative plastic cups with the Masters logo so by days end you see guys carrying a stack of ten cups with the eleventh beer of the day propped in the top of the stack. These are the same guys who had the beer can pyramids in their frat rooms in college. It is high anxiety in the concession line around 3:55 when the taps are closing at 4 p.m. sharp.
The golf shops situated on the grounds are equally impressive both in the scale of their offerings and the efficiency of the operation. You can spend $500 on your Platinum Amex Card on hats, shirts, towels, and a few other Masters chotchkies faster than you can say “don’t leave home without it”. Not missing a beat they provide a free bag check service just past the register area so you can bunk your purchases for later pick-up after the tournament viewing is over.
If you are truly connected, blessed, or just wealthy you can get the uber Berckmans Place Ticket which gives you access to Augusta’s latest upscale enclave. They added this permanent structure in 2013 that easily covers 90,000 square feet. It includes half a dozen distinct waiter served dining areas covered by the price of the Berckmans ticket, walls of Masters history, a golf shop with fine Italian golf shirts, areas from which to watch the tournament, and a practice putting area that’s includes replicas of the 7th, 14th, and 16th greens at Augusta National kept at tournament speeds. After 20 minutes of putting these greens you will have new respect for the phrase “these guys are good”.
Bobby Jones Grand Slam Collection on display in the hallway
Meanwhile back out on the course a golf tournament was breaking out.
For the first 27 holes it was not going well for the pre-tournament favoriteEmbed from Getty Images
But the cacophonies of fan exuberance were cascading over the pines from all directions as birdies and eagles were aplenty. Sitting beside the green on the Par 3 16th late Saturday afternoon we witnessed birdie bedlam three times in fifteen minutes. The pin was on the top shelf front right in a position that no one could seem to keep their approach and no birdies were being yielded.
It began with Phil burying a 40-foot snake up the slope….the pines reverberatedEmbed from Getty Images
5 minutes later Justin’s bunker recovery gets nothing but netEmbed from Getty Images
Then the tournament leaders Charlie Hoffman and Jordan Spieth hit lawn darts to about 7 and 15 feet respectively right in front of the hole. Jordan buried his putt for birdie which lengthened Hoffman’s attempt by about 20 feet and his lead by another stroke when Charlie failed to convert. The crowd at this point was in full hysteria….it felt like a Springsteen concert at the Jersey Shore. Spieth would carry a four-shot lead into Sunday’s final round.
Tiger had his moments but concealed obstacles were lurking everywhereEmbed from Getty Images
Sunday proved to be anything but a cake walk but playing beside a major champion in Justin Rose Jordan made 6 birdies to post a round of 70, tie the tournament record at 18-under, and win what is likely to be the first of many majors. At the end of the day Simba seemed to take his first steps up to the mountain top.
At 18 this familiar gesture seemed like Deja Vu all over again…..
What a great commentary of your trip. Thanks for sharing it with us. Herbie