Monday, April 29, 2013

The Masters...A Delayed Review




I told you I was headed to The Masters in Augusta (Like 3 weeks ago now) and I did actually go and yes...it was worth it. Here is my summary:

The People:

One cannot help feeling just a little bit smug when walking onto the historic course at Augusta National knowing it is an exclusive ticket at an even more exclusive club. Most people hide this attitude. Occasionally you actually see those who choose not to. Essentially I found there to be two groups each consisting of sub-groups. The groups are those who go frequently "The In's" and those who have never been "The NeverBeen's". Within each group you have those who take things too seriously (As in I OWN the place) and those who are just happy to be there. There is also a small sub-group within the "NeverBeen's"  that appear to have mixed up their invitations for the day...more on that in a minute.

The "In" group, that is the regular attendees, have a nice routine and seem to understand how to maximize their time at Augusta. They have their chairs on the ready and stake out their special spots and refrain from walking everywhere. The "NeverBeens" need to walk the place because they have no idea when they will ever return. The "In's" have the right approach...if you want to see golf.

What I found most enjoyable were those in the "NeverBeen's" who have decided they are Augusta National's version of the cool kids. These are the people who arrive in their golf attire, fully outfitted as if at a moment's notice Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson may ask them to stand in for them and sink a 50 foot putt or perhaps at least read that putt. Many of them sport multiple logos from their country club such as a shirt, hat, maybe a golf glove even (yes I saw one person wearing one)...and of course their golf spikes that fully match.

Now I must make a distinction, many of the Patrons...you cannot call them spectators though at $250 face value (tickets through brokers go for even more) I would think they could call themselves whatever they want...wear golf shirts and even spikes because of the hilly terrain and the fact that it can get wet...we did for just that reason and I was glad I was able to avoid making a scene by not losing my footing and taking out six people during Bubba Watson's backswing. The difference is the "cool kids" actually think they could play...at any second. I noticed a number of male groups walking with matching country club "uniforms" as if they were scouting Augusta in an effort to create an even better tournament, commenting on how their club does this part "differntly" or making their thoughts known that their course actually is considered "more difficult". Most did this while smoking cigars...another item they appeared to need to demonstrate their coolness. In the end, they entered and left from the same non-member gate we did and never set foot in the club house. They are still waiting for a request that will never happen to be asked to hit a shot.

The other group that was fun to watch was those who appeared to show up at the golf tournament thinking they were going to a country club luncheon. The temperatures were in the high 70's but in the sun it felt warmer. Yet there were a number of women in semi-formal...dress...walking a golf course. Many of the men wore black. Black shirts, black pants, black moods. They were hot and others noticed. One woman had heels and multiple layers of wraps I guess. She was miserable...her date even more so.

Lastly, it is true...you can spot a member a mile away by their green jacket and Masters logo. They wander the course sparingly and patrons look for them like bird watchers on a rare search. When one is spotted everyone points, stares...and misses a golfer hitting his shot.

The Place:

In a word...pristine. There are no weeds to be found. I looked. The dominant tree is the Georgia Pine but you won't find a pine cone anywhere on the grounds. The entrance gate for the masses reminded me of a super upscale Disney entrance crossed with the starting gate at the Kentucky Derby. Cell phones and cameras are banned yet they have banks of phones to use free of charge throughout the course. Grandstands are well positioned and seating is first come first served but orderly. The concession concept is one every sporting venue should figure out how to replicate. It is pure genius. There are concession zones...open air buildings with multiple one way lines. Patrons do not "order" anything. They choose what they want as they go through the line, gathering for their needs as they go. Laid out for picking is Fruit, candy bars, sandwiches, soft drinks, tea, beer, water, lemonade That's it...and it is cheap. We went through these lines a number of times (and very quickly) and the most we spent for 5 people was $22. The fact that there is no ordering, no chance for time crushing hesitation by the patron along with no delay from the server getting the food to you means you clear these 100 foot lines in less than three minutes...five when it was packed. Brilliant.

On the way out they have a terrific gift shop where one can buy anything "Masters". This does not function as well as the concession stands but no one cares because they are buying "Master's stuff" and you can only buy that there. When you leave the store you can either take your items with you or take a left and head off to the shipping area where they will pack it up and ship it to your home...for the usual fee but it is well worth it if you are flying home.

The Golf:

Without question, golf fans believe The Masters is the ultimate golfing event...perhaps the biggest Major if there is such a thing. The course is much more up and down than it appears on TV. Number ten is a long downhill dogleg left hole while 18 which sits next to 10 is a long very uphill slight dogleg right. One could get winded walking up 18 and at one point our group looked for a tram or at least a rope tow. No luck.

The greens are crazy fast...so they say. I don't think you can really see that unless you play it which we did not. The Clubbers would probably tell you they could see it but they can't. But what one can see is that the greens look like moguls on a ski run. They slope, undulate and basically take putting to a whole new level...or lack thereof.

Throughout the day we walked the course because we were "NeverBeen's" and we wanted to see it all. For some strange reason we were with Phil Mickelson for two holes (and stood a mere three feet from him on numerous occasions) but then we lost him as we moved ahead and ended up trailing, by accident, Bernard Langer...it was if we were his fan club and we got more than a few looks. BL as we started to call him seem to appreciate his "fan base".

Finally, it should be noted that if you like to watch golf then I don't recommend you actually go the tournament. Watch it on TV. I hate to play slow golf and this is way beyond anything I have ever seen. We watched Tiger Woods hit his tee shot in the fairway near us on number 10 and then we/he waited at least 10 minutes to hit his next shot. Rounds were taking 6 hours...agony. It was more interesting watching the human "flood" of people rush past us to get to another place to watch him...wait.

Final Thoughts:

Attendance at The Masters is a bucket list item and I was lucky enough to get there and to take my youngest son who is a golf fanatic (and a fine player as well). Stepping foot on the course is a true joy and taking in the atmosphere is the real experience I wanted and I got that. I did not see a lot of golf and that goes to my earlier point: Golf is clearly the worst in person spectator sport next to Chess but having been now makes the TV viewing at Augusta much more fun. I have a perspective of the course.

If you get the chance...GO. I might even suggest a practice round over the actual tournament as you are allowed to bring in cameras...and you get to see the course layout. I'm not sure if I'll get back to Augusta and The Master's but having been once at least takes me out of the "NeverBeen's" category...I will now be in the "One of those guys who wears his Masters shirt a little too often" category. 

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