The moment I landed at Augusta Regional Airport, I knew I was in for a unique experience.
Maybe it was the fact that no less than 50 private jets lined the runway, or the fact that the terminal at AGS felt more like a country club than an airport. Rocking chairs surrounded a putting green where couples in their 70s sat drinking what I can only imagine was sweet tea.
I must be in the South.
You see, my whole life I’ve been drawn to the mystery that is Augusta National Golf Club. A place so exclusive that even Bill Gates was denied membership at first. Widely regarded as one of the finest golf courses in the entire world, it’s rarely played except for one week in April during the Masters when golfers and non golfers alike all turn their attention to the small Georgia town.
Even having the opportunity to step foot on the course seemed like a virtual impossibility – at least in the near term. They say tickets to the Masters are the “toughest ticket in sports” (link is slightly outdated, but you get the idea) and if you can find them, you better believe you’re paying a pretty significant premium.
So you can imagine my shock when six months ago one of the readers here at Location 180 stumbled across #27 on my bucket list: “Play Augusta National” and sent me an email that said something to the effect of “I may not be able to help you play, but I’d like to invite you to be my guest at the Masters next year.”
After getting over the shock, all that was left to do was book the ticket.
Fast forward to this past Friday when I had the privilege to step foot on the most famous golf course in the world.
My initial reaction was this place was essentially Disneyland for old rich dudes.
The main entrance looked very much like the entrance to a high class theme park, differentiated only by the metal detectors and the speed with which they moved us through the line.
After walking past the practice greens and walking up to the first tee, you could sense the excitement. I had a grin on my face wider than any kid in Anaheim, and it wouldn’t leave my face for the rest of the day.
While there were certainly families and people of all ages at the tournament, there was one demographic that made up the vast majority. I could have guessed who this might be, based on my flight into town which was made up almost entirely of 40-70 year old guys with golf polos and Rolex watches – oh and a few ESPN employees.
The tournament was that on steroids.
I’ve always been kind of a watch guy, and the one thing that has always perplexed me was who buys the Rolex Datejust? It’s ugly, looks like it’s straight out of the 80s and there’s a good chance it costs more than a month of your salary.
Well, I figured it out. People who go to the Masters buy this watch, I swear I saw no less than 500 of them at the tournament.
We spent the morning walking the course and taking in the tradition of it all. Unlike Disneyland, once you get into the tournament, concessions are cheap. $1.50 for the famed Pimento cheese sandwich. A few cents more for a club sandwich, and beer was a paltry 3 bucks – find me another sporting event anywhere with beer for three bucks.
About 45 minutes into our walk around the course we rolled through Amen corner. Even without the color of the famed Azaleas (unfortunately they bloomed early this year) there’s no good way to describe what its like to be at one of the most famous locations in sports. We set up our chairs and headed back to the second hole where we saw everyone from Phil to Rory to Freddy, who by the way chose Friday to put on a clinic and become the oldest main in Masters history to be in the lead through 36 holes.
We followed Phil for awhile before heading back to our seats at the corner where I successfully obtained a sunburn on the entire left (and only left) side of my body.
After an hour there it was time to go Tiger hunting.
I learned that Tiger is never hard to find on the golf course. There’s always a swarm of thousands of people following him (even if he is having a terrible round), and when we caught up with him on the 7th hole spectating definitely became more of a challenge.
My calves are hating me, as they got the most exercise they’ve seen in awhile I was constantly on my tiptoes trying to see the scenes unfold in front of me.
There’s a lot we can learn from the people who organized the event, as Augusta National was perhaps the most efficient place I’ve ever been to.
I mentioned the speed at the gate, but this carried over from everything to the concession lines to the bathroom. The restroom attendants may have put on the best show of the day. Getting people at the end of the 50 yard long lines in and out in less than 3 minutes (no joke).
“Stay focused, stare at the wall, absolutely no shaking”
Every time we walked in to a restroom, the attendent would say a variation of that line – it never got any less hilarious.
There really weren’t many downsides to the whole experience. Sure I got a nice sunburn, and it was hard to see at times, but aside from that the only real downside was the fact I couldn’t bring a camera in to get some photos for this post!
By the end of the day I’d pretty much seen all of the best golfers in the world play. I stood where some of the most memorable moments in sports took place (c’mon, even if you don’t golf you remember Tiger’s
Nike Commercial chip on 16). The only thing that could have made my day at the Masters better?
Three more of them.
Photo Credit Brett Chisum