It is pretty safe to say that most golf fans will go their entire life without ever setting foot on the grounds at Augusta National Golf Club for The Masters. The biggest reason for this is that it’s so hard to get tickets. Tournament badges have not been available to the public since 1972, and are only available to those who are already on the patron list. Even the waiting list was closed, so no applications for tournament badges are being accepted. As far as the practice rounds go, they are sold in advance by application only. If you want a chance to go see the practice rounds in 2011, you must write to the Masters and applicants are randomly selected and notified in September. Masters tickets are not supposed to be resold, but it isn’t uncommon for people who will not be attending to sell their badges for several thousand dollars each. Folks, it’s a tough ticket.
This year a friend of mine was given four passes to the practice rounds by someone, and I was lucky enough to be invited to tag along! It was my first time at Augusta National, and the experience was one I’ll never forget. The first thing that struck me as I entered the gates past the security checkpoint is the level of organization and the condition of the grounds. People say Augusta National is a mecca for golf, and they aren’t lying. It’s like Disney World on steroids, the efficiency with which this tournament is run. Nothing is ever out of place, nothing is done randomly, and everything has a place and purpose at the Masters.
Before I even stepped foot on the golf course I noticed that everything around the clubhouse and concessions is meticulously maintained. From the fresh paint on buildings and fences, perfectly sculpted bushes and hedges and blooming flowers, green grass bordered by beds of pine straw and ageless pines, magnolias and oak trees, the facilities are so well maintained it’s almost eerie. Staff members dressed in yellow coveralls walk around constantly with garbage picks at the ready, such that a piece of garbage carelessly tossed on the ground doesn’t stand a chance.
One thing you never see on television are the concession stands where patrons can buy food and drinks, and the merchandise stores. Set back in the woods away from the golf course, and out of the way of camera angles sit the various food stands. Where most golf tournament gouge the spectators for $8 burgers and $5 beers, the prices for food at The Masters are so low it makes you wonder what’s the catch. I bought a Ham & Cheese on Rye ($1.50) with a Lemonade ($1.50) and was left wondering why I had so much cash left over! The most expensive item on the menu is Import Beer, at $3.50. The food and drink prices are something that never gets any publicity, but it really should. Maybe this is just Augusta National’s way of thanking the patrons for their loyalty, or perhaps this is a genius marketing ploy to get you to spend more of your money buying shirts, flags, mugs, belts and ball markers!
The gentleman in front of me at the souvenir shop spent about $750, and many others spend well over $100 on merchandise that is only available on site for one week a year. Another service that is provided to the patrons is a bag check service that allows you to leave your purchases to be retrieved at the end of the day so that you don’t have to carry them all over the place. They could certainly charge people and make a lot of money, but the service is provided for free. Another freebie that you wouldn’t expect is parking. If you show up early and park in the main lot adjacent to the property, there is no charge. It’s only the greedy business owners up and down Washington Road that charge for parking.
We spent most of the day on Monday wandering around the grounds and watching whoever was in the area. To start the day we walked up to #8 green to catch Tiger and Fred Couples playing up #8 and tee of on #9. We then walked down to Amen Corner to catch them playing 11, 12 and 13. Fuzzy Zoeller pulled a young boy out of the crowd on 12 and bet Ian Woosnam $100 that he would hit it on the green. The youngster calmly stroked Fuzzy’s 3 wood on to the green. Apparently, 12 year olds don’t know it’s supposed to be a tough hole! Woozy handed Fuzzy a $100 bill to pay his debt, and Fuzzy proceeded to hand it to the kid. After all, he earned it! After that we went to #16 to watch the groups skipping balls across the water in accordance with the traditions of the practice rounds at Augusta.
I have always been a traditionalist, so for me the best part of the day was getting to watch Ben Crenshaw roll balls across the 2nd green with his legendary putting stroke. Making a smooth stroke that would have hit the ball 4 feet on the local muni’s greens, I watched as the ball rolled slowly about 30 feet down a hill, break left about 3 feet, and come to rest gently against a pencil his caddy had placed there. 3 times in a row. It may sound insane, but the ball seems to dwell on the face of his putter, and he seems to simply guide it towards the hole with perfect speed every time. Much like Masters Tournament founder Bobby Jones’ golf swing, there is nothing remotely violent about Ben Crenshaw’s putting stroke, and that is why I love watching him putt.
Without further ado, I present to you my photo gallery of the 2010 Masters Tournament Monday Practice Rounds. One thing worth noting is the size of the galleries. While the number of people allowed on the grounds is limited, it is certainly a much larger gallery than Monday at any other tournament! The crowds following Tiger and Fred were the largest of the day, but with that exception, access to the players was very good and there was always a place to get a good view of the action. Enjoy!
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