After covering the Masters Tournament for 27 years, the last 26 consecutively, I’ve learned a few dos and don’ts and a couple secrets about the Augusta National Golf Club that I’m willing to pass on for a price.
Just kidding. The advice is free. Take it or leave it.
If you’re fortunate to have won the Masters ticket lottery and are attending the tournament for the first time, or like millions it’s on your bucket list, here are 10 things you need to know:
No cell phones
This is Rule No. 1, 2, 10 and 892. Do NOT try to smuggle your cell phone into the Masters. First of all, they’re going to catch it in the airport-level security screening at the entrance gate. But if they don’t, and your cell phone goes off in the middle of Jordan Spieth’s backswing, you will be escorted off the grounds faster than you can say Kiradech Aphabarnrat. Oh, and don’t bother entering the lottery for future Masters tickets – you’re forever persona non grata.
This is the Masters, not the Daytona 500
If you want to stand out in a crowd, wear a cutoff t-shirt, jean shorts and flip flops at Augusta National. On second thought, please don’t. Also, do not run on the course. This will earn a stern admonishment from the gendarmes. Also, do not yell “You da man!” or “Baba booey!” Not only will you sound like the fool you are, but you may be watching the rest of the tournament from the comfort of your car, a mile away. Trust me, you won’t see much.
Try the pimento cheese sandwich
You don’t go to Blarney Castle and not kiss the stone. You don’t go to the Grand Canyon and not take photos. So, don't leave Augusta National without trying the signature $1.50 pimento cheese sandwich, a delightful blend of bread and, well, pimento cheese. Maybe it tastes a bit like cardboard, but it’s a tradition unlike any other.
Listen to the birdies
No, I’m not talking about the roars cascading through the pines when a player rolls in a birdie putt down in Amen Corner. I’m talking about the microphones in the trees emitting bird chirps. It’s either that, or the same happy bird sits on the same limb in the same tree all day and emits the same number of chirps in the same sequence every eight seconds, over and over and over.
If there is one indispensable item at the Masters, it’s sunscreen. Or maybe it’s an umbrella. Or sunglasses. Or a hat. OK, you do need all those things, at one time or another. But don’t forget binoculars. You won’t be able to see all the action up close, especially in Amen Corner, so a good pair of binoculars can make a world of difference in your viewing experience.
Best place to view action on the course
My favorite spot is the area between the second and third fairways. You can stand atop the hill at the corner of the dogleg on the second hole and watch the players hit their downhill second shots into the par 5. With binoculars (see above), you can watch them chip and putt. From there, it’s a one-minute walk to the green on the par-4 third, where you will see all manner of short-iron approaches, pitches and chips into the elevated putting surface. The tee on the par-3 fourth is right next to the third green so you can watch players play that entire hole, too.
The hills are alive … with the sounds of huffing and puffing
The hills are alive … with the sounds of huffing and puffing: Augusta National is not quite the Himalayas, but there is considerable elevation change. I wouldn’t suggest trying to walk the course in wingtips or stilettos. Wear comfortable shoes, take your time and stop to smell the azaleas. If you’re not in decent shape, find a nice spot in the shade and watch the golf world go by. Like everything else at the Masters, the people-watching is world-class.
Shop till you drop
Negotiating the massive and maze-like Masters Tournament gift shop and leaving with a bag of shirts and hats and a serious dent in your credit card is part of the experience. It’s the only place in the world to buy Masters-logo'ed stuff, not counting the “entrepreneurs” who re-sell at steep markups on eBay. I’ve got every official tournament poster since 1998. They’re all in their original tubes in a box in my basement. What am I going to do with them? I have no idea.
Best way to follow Tiger, Rory or Phil
If you insist on following a one-name superstar, you’ll be fighting massive crowds moving amoeba-like along the gallery ropes and gathering 10-deep around the greens. If you want to see anything, stay ahead of the mob … oops, sorry ANGC, I mean the patrons. When Tiger is on the tee, walk ahead to the green until he hits his approach, then go to the next hole and repeat. If you stay until he putts out, you’re going to get caught at crosswalks and will be fighting to catch up.
Eating as a contact sport
If you want anything other than fast food in Augusta, it’s wise to make reservations at the restaurants that will take them during Masters week. I wouldn’t call the city a foodie’s paradise but there are some decent places to eat and, as you can imagine, virtually every one of them is crazy busy from 6 p.m. to midnight. Don’t expect fast service, because you’re not going to get it. My personal recommendation? The to-die-for peanut butter pie at French Market Grille.
If you want to look me up at the Masters this week, it won’t be hard to find me. I’ll be the guy in the tank top, jean shorts and flip flops, talking on my cell phone. Not.