Augusta National Worthy of Bucket List Designation, Even for Masters Practice Rounds

By Jared Cooper

Also see: Masters Photo Gallery

img_0248Earlier this week I was able to attend the practice rounds of the Masters in Augusta, crossing off a sporting event that tops many people’s sports bucket list. For a golf course in the middle of a town that is seemingly in the middle of nowhere, Augusta National really captures the attention of sports fans like few, if any, other venues.

I only attended the practice rounds on Monday and Tuesday, while staying in a private home just minutes from the course, but I was able to get a great feel for the town and the event, and what makes it so special. What I most appreciated about the Masters was that once you walk through the gates, everyone is equal. There are no 50-yard line suites, no front row seats, and no exclusive VIP-only seating. If you get there when the gates open and walk to a spot you like, you can put your $30 gift-shop-bought Masters chair down and no one moves it or messes with it. You can leave your chair, go check out a different hole and come back to find your chair unmoved, undisturbed right where it was left.

img_0119There are tens of thousands of fans milling about, following their favorite golfer or posting up at their favorite spot, all dressed casually and in awe of their surroundings. While there is surely a tremendous corporate presence, you can’t tell the executives apart from the locals whose homes are worth less than what the executive makes in a month. And you can be sure that local knows to walk straight to Amen Corner to put their chair down and get the most cherished view on the course.

[singlepic id=249 w=320 h=240 float=left]It oddly seems as though The Masters does not care to maximize its profit. Sandwiches at the concession stands are about $3, merchandise is sold only on-site for one week out of the year, and tickets are not put on the market. Badges are provided to members of the club, and they essentially set the market by providing them to secondary sources for hospitality packages and scalpers. Break one of the rules of the course and not only do you get kicked out, but the member who the badge belongs to faces revocation of their membership! Tradition is taken seriously here, as is evident by the no cell phone on the grounds policy.

In terms of the course and actual golf itself, it is simply fantastic. The well manicured lawns, the picturesque ponds on the 15th and 16th (among other) holes, and vibrant green grass and leaves provide something of a sensory overload as you walk the course. Viewing stands are strategically set up at certain holes, but otherwise people bring their own folding chair or just walk from hole to hole.

img_0310My personal favorite spot was between the 9th tee and 1st green, with a view across the 9th fairway of the 8th green. As the golfers walk up the 8th fairway they appear out of thin air over the hill on their way to the green, and then seemingly walk directly at you as they make their way to the 9th tee. Standing along the rope near the tee you can hear the ping of the drive and the whistle of the speeding ball as it zooms overhead. It is comparable to hearing the squeaks of the sneakers as you sit courtside at a basketball game, yet even more impressive.

I was able to stay in home within a literal five-minute walk of the entrance of Gate 9, allowing me to avoid all traffic and logistic hassles that normally accompany the event. Being able to wake up at 7:30 and be among the first to walk into Augusta National when the gates open is an incredible perk. Phil Sloan, who has been running Masters packages for 17 years, set up the accommodations, and it could not have been more seamless. On future trips I have no doubt that I will be choosing to stay in close proximity to the course as opposed to in South Carolina, Atlanta, or other areas miles away from Augusta.

There are ways to enjoy this unforgettable event without breaking the bank, and I encourage all sports fans clear out their schedule from April 8-14 of 2013 to make the pilgrimage. If even only for the Monday and Tuesday practice rounds, or Par 3 challenge on Wednesday, this even is one of the shining stars of spectator sporting events, and must be experienced live.

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