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If you’re lucky enough to get inside Augusta National, you’ll understand why they call it ‘heaven’
AUGUSTA, Ga. — Before the 87th Masters starts, the best golfers in the world are out at 7 a.m., smacking balls that get swallowed by fog. Their caddies, in white jumpsuits and green hats, hover in the background like ghosts, and patrons swarm closer as the rising sun kisses soft velvety greens.
“Everything is perfect,” whispers a voice in the crowd.
It better be. If you are not a member or didn’t win a lottery, prepare to pay dearly. A four-day badge to enter golf paradise costs $11,588 on a secondary ticket market. Tacky motels charge more than $300 a night.
But once inside Augusta National Golf Club, concession prices are inexpensive. A cup of beer with the Masters logo is $5. The famous pimento sandwiches are $1.50. The Masters Georgia Peach Ice Cream Sandwich is $2.50. This day they are sold out by 10 a.m.
It’s definitely old school here with cigar-smoking patrons and armies of smiling volunteers (they’ll get a free pass after 25 years). There are thousands of people and not a single cellphone. They are forbidden on the property.
Outside the fourth hole there is a nondescript kiosk featuring banks of phones you can use to call anywhere at no charge.
It feels like 1934, when the first Masters took place. Huge scoreboards are manually operated. There is no advertising.
The Masters even has its own lingo — there are no “fans,” only “patrons” — and many, many rules. Running is not allowed, no bare feet, no sitting on the grass, no standing in sitting areas, no hats worn backward, and no cameras except on practice days. News photographers must use electronic cameras set to silent.
The area surrounding Augusta National is a stark contrast, a mish-mash of fast-food restaurants, a Hooters with a “Come Meet John Daly” sign, the obligatory You’re-Gonna-Rot-in-Hell sinner guy, a Trump flag-waving van, and tents with “We Buy and Sell” badges.
Nobody seems to be selling.
Greg Fisher, 50, of Washington state is poised at the front of the entrance before sunrise. He has wanted to come here since he was 5.
“This is No. 1 on my bucket list,” he says. “Just the tradition, the history, the beauty, the mystique, the magic.”
TV doesn’t do it justice. It’s gorgeous, even this year when a heat wave caused the iconic azaleas to bloom early. You’ll never see a weed. Also missing are mosquitoes, squirrels, and any kinds of pests. Conspiracy theorists suggest that bird chirpings are piped in, but this is hard to verify. Golf Digest once tested the water from a pond on the 15th hole and found it had food dye in it.
The manicured greens are cut to an 1/8 of an inch. Sandwich bags are green colored, just like the gravel. If you enter the gift shop, you’ll be losing a lot of green.
The giant store sells an estimated $69 million in merchandise, according to Forbes magazine. Souvenirs are not sold online, only at The Masters.
Almost everything with a Masters logo on it is for sale, except for the green jacket awarded to the winner. The Masters champion gets to wear it for a year, then must store it on Augusta National Golf Club property.
Patrons line up early to buy Masters gnomes, which quickly sell out and turn up on eBay for eight times the price.
Golfers can’t apply for membership — they must be invited. They didn’t invite a Black man to compete until Lee Elder in 1975, and there were no female members until 2012 (former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice).
Patrons can buy a Masters lawn chair for $40, set up behind the ropes surrounding the greens, and come and go as they please. When they return, they will have first dibs on it.
There is no booing. Everyone is civilized — even patrons who drink beer all day and have a pile of souvenir cups are polite.
“They’re more getting drunk on the Masters than beer,” says one sheriff.
On practice days, the most fun is at No. 16. Here, the crowd chants “skip it” and the pros try to skim the ball across the pond up a steep hill and onto the green. Some balls land on the green and stick, others roll back into the drink.
At Amen Corner’s famous 13th hole, a doctor and her husband, a nurse, couldn’t believe their luck. There was a spot nestled in the pines with shade, and close access to concession stands and bathrooms. The pros land their tee shots with surgical precision between them and Rae’s Creek.
The couple didn’t want to give their name — maybe they called out sick — but after the COVID pandemic, the air was sweet and the beer was cold, so who could blame them?
“This is heaven,” they said in unison.
Read more in this series
- Cameron Indoor Stadium
- Lambeau Field
- Michigan Stadium
- Churchill Downs
- Indianapolis Motor Speedway
- Fenway Park
Stan Grossfeld can be reached at email@example.com.