A Sense of Place The Masters has been held in the same spot, every year, since it began in 1934. There are other tournaments that have a fixed home, but none of them are majors and none have the history, the personality and the stories that Augusta offers. Over the years, the familiarity with the place builds, yet it always has a dimension of newness. It’s a thrilling mixture.
Tradition The Masters has lots of it, from the green jacket and the Crows Nest to the honorary starters, the Champions Dinner, the caddy uniforms and the Par 3 Contest (watch Jack’s hole-in-one at the Par 3 this year above). Not all the traditions have been that great, frankly. One of the most egregious was fixed in 2012 when Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore were given membership to Augusta. But the traditions associated with the tournament itself are the kind that develop a deeper patina over the years, imparting a deep character and personality to the event.
Innovation Augusta may be traditional, but it ain’t hidebound. Change happens as needed. When Hootie Johnson became chairman in 1998, he made up for lost time. He brought diversity into the organization, created a world-class philanthropic arm, reshaped and lengthened the course and brought a tone of humility that had been lacking at Augusta. And he helped create the great Drive, Chip & Putt contest in 2014, a gold standard for bringing kids into the game.
Beauty They say that even the trees are power-washed at Augusta. I once heard that the chief agronomist (“groundskeepers” at other courses) had a standing $100 bet for anyone who could find a weed anywhere on the property. The azaleas are perfectly clipped and the quartz-filled bunkers are gleaming white. But it’s not just the pruning and polishing. The natural layout of the course is stunning, particularly the bobsled run from the 10th tee box down to Amen Corner, the cozy little hollow down by the 16th green and the long sightlines you can get from one side of the course to the other.
The Course All the beauty of Augusta almost disguises the beast that lurks below. The course is truly a test of champions. It looks pretty, there’s no rough, the pine straw looks so benign, but this course will roar and bark and bite. Is there a greater risk/reward hole than the 13th? If the length doesn’t get you, then the greens certainly will. When Augusta went to bentgrass on the greens, they might as well have put down linoleum. The algorithms used by the Greens Committee to do cup placements during the Masters must make Google search look like third-grade math. The modern Masters produces the most drama of any major (except, of course, for the U.S. Open playoff at Torrey Pines, which Tiger played with a broken leg). It consistently produces the tightest finishes, which is what we all love, right?
Berckmans Place Augusta opened up this new hospitality facility in 2013, named after the road that runs alongside the course. Located near the 5th hole, it’s 90,000 square feet filled with restaurants, memorabilia, bars and TVs and verandas, and putting greens that create four of the holes on the course. Along with the new driving range that opened a few years ago, it’s a sign of the confidence that Augusta has in the future of their franchise.
The Patrons That’s right. They’re not called spectators, which you are reminded of when you read the guidebook. But they live up to the name. To a person, people who come to The Masters are knowledgeable, passionate, polite, affable and helpful. Boundaries are respected – put a chair anywhere on the course, return five hours later, and it’s still there. Empty. But the patrons don’t hold back when things heat up (watch the way the crowd reacts to Phil’s first win in the video above). There’s nothing quite like the roar that rises from the 16th hole when someone hits a good shot. It’s guttural. Feherty once said during such a roar that the broadcast tower nearby was “vibrating like a tuning fork.”
Logistics Attendance is capped, but probably runs about 40,000 per day. Rumor has it that Augusta at one point brought in some logistics experts from Disney – and it shows. Things run quickly and smoothly. Lines are minimized. There’s always a good viewing spot. A few years ago, a big storm rolled through on Tuesday night, felling a huge pine tree that cut through the men’s restroom at the 16th hole like a hot knife through butter. It was literally rebuilt in 24 hours, up and running by Thursday morning.
Practice Rounds Lots of guys are out playing before the Thursday start. The atmosphere is relaxed, they’re trying out different shots and you might even get in a word or two with one of the players. Plus, on the 16th hole, you get to see the great “skipping” contest. Players tee it up right in from the front of the lake and skip the ball on the water up to the green. Everyone does it. Amazing. The excellent “patron” clip above captures the feeling. Check out the skipping contest at 22:13.
Egg Salad Sandwiches $1.50. Boom! They do a better job than Steve Carrel.