Sunday at the Masters: Part One
Twenty word tease: There are perks to being a golf architect. One of those landed on my desk just weeks before the Masters.
I’ve eaten Pimiento cheese just three times in my life before Sunday. On Sunday, I downed three and a half. And that half was not the first half of a sandwich, if you know what I mean. A pimiento cheese sandwich is one of many Masters traditions and I’ll be honest, I’ve been fortunate to attend the Masters three times before Sunday, experiencing those traditions. Go ahead; you can put two and two together. I won’t mention the three egg salads I downed. I’m a sucker for affordable food and that’s another tradition.
The toughest ticket in sports just may be access to the Masters. That in itself is a Masters tradition. Ticket access began mostly for Augusta locals and as the Masters grew in prestige, ticket access got tougher and tougher. By 1972, a waiting list for tickets was started and in 2000 the list was closed. According to the Masters Spectator guide, there is no foreseeable future for opening up the waiting list again. Just in the past few years practice round ticket availability shrunk as well.
My first Masters was the Wednesday practice round and par-three tournament in 1987, before everyone got cute with child caddies. My most vivid memory of that day was helping Byron Nelson get his clubs out of his car in the parking lot among the throngs of “patrons” milling around oblivious to the legend among them (at the Masters, visitors are not called spectators. They are called patrons). I attended a practice round in 1991 as well. My first official round at Augusta was the final round of the 2001 event, which completed the “Tiger Slam”. My wife and I spent the entire day behind the twelfth tee, with visual access to eleven green and thirteen tee as well. As soon as Tiger and David Duval began their trek down thirteen fairway, we headed for the gates and the ride back to Pinehurst. It would have been pointless to pick up and try to follow the action from thirteen in and even more ludicrous to try and stake out a seat elsewhere at that point.
This brings me to Sunday’s round. There are perks to being in the golf business as a golf architect and one of those perks landed on my desk a few weeks prior to the event. We pulled out of the sandhills at six am and arrived in Augusta by ten. Traffic from I-20 to the club was a non-issue. The gates already opened at eight and the masses had yet to arrive. A new formal entrance to the right of a new practice area since my last visit clearly demonstrated that the people who put on the Masters may want to give the Transportation Security Administration some tips about running people through the system.
Our first plan was to hit the merchandise tent before the lines got too long. By the time we got there, a medium golf shirt was nowhere to be found and as the seconds ticked away the larges slipped away as well. By the time we left that evening, the building was stripped clear of everything.
When attending any golf tournament, there are two basic approaches: Either follow a particular group or camp out at a strategic location. My plan was the latter. It was eleven in the morning by the time we exited the merchandise tent and just three groups were on the course. But the throngs were coming so we had an urgency to stake out our spot quickly. The desired location this year for us was to be fifteen green. Passing the first tee, we watched Retief Goosen’s tee shot blow past Robert Karlsson’s much to the amazement of the crowd. One could see the frustration in Karlsson’s steps as if to say, “You know I’m not really that short off the tee!” The route to our destination started at ten tee (originally Alister Mackenzie’s first tee). As we rounded eighteen green, we were struck by the chairs already staking out territory surrounding the putting surface twenty rows deep. Clearly veteran Master’s patrons were here as the gates opened. The urge to simply move them all out of the way and camp out at the edge of the ropes was strong, simply to experience other’s reactions to our brazen denial of another Masters tradition. Besides, it would be a good three hours before we could see any action. Moving on, we were approached by a tall sort with a Valvoline logoed shirt marching with purpose up the tree line along ten fairway toward the clubhouse, yardage book in hand. Steve Williams, Tiger’s caddy, was taking his job to the next level by pacing off distances just in case his boss blocked a final tee shot dead right. Like him or not, this small task is what makes this caddy one of the best in the business.
Upon arrival at fifteen, there was some strategy to consider before settling on our final seat locations. Stands front both sides of fifteen green, yet there are also stands along the left side of sixteen as well. The question to be considered is where can we see the most action? We settled on the very top of the stands along sixteen on a line directly adjacent to the front of the tee box. From this vantage point, we had unobstructed views of fifteen green and all of sixteen. More importantly, the sun would only be baking us for just another hour. The drawback was that we wouldn’t be able to see the approach into fifteen. Instead, our cues that a shot was forthcoming would be provided when the fairway crosswalk was roped off.