It goes without saying that a Masters badge is one of the most coveted tickets in all of sports. I was fortunate enough to have a friend selected in the lottery for Monday’s practice round of the 2017 Masters. Growing up, I was able to attend 5 or 6 Masters tournaments from about 4th grade through middle school. My father would go to the Masters every year on Sunday and in 1999 he took the whole family. Taking a family of 4 to the Masters in 2017 would cost a pretty penny. In 1999, we were given 2 tickets and were able to scalp 2 tickets for face value (about a 100 bucks a piece). Today, the going rate for a Sunday ticket is upwards of $1500. I was lucky to be able to go to the Masters so many years in a row but I know that as a young boy I was not able to fully appreciate the course or the experience. Golf has become a passion for me over the last few years and I was pumped to be going back to Augusta again.
We decided to go to Augusta on Sunday to make sure we could get to Augusta National when it first opened. We knew the forecast was not looking promising so we wanted to be able to see as much of the course as possible. With a few weeks to go before the tournament, we made the decision to go early Sunday morning and play golf in Augusta. There are several courses in the Augusta area and we were able to get a morning tee time fairly easy. We settled on Pointe South Golf Club, which is about 20 miles south of Augusta National. We chose this course simply because of the price. Our morning greens fee was around 60 bucks and then a replay rate of $20 for our second round. Some of the nicer course in Augusta can go for $2400 per foursome during Masters week, so this was an easy decision. Pointe South proved to be the perfect way to spend a Sunday with the anticipation of what was coming tomorrow.
We booked the Hyatt Place hotel a few exits down I-20 from where Augusta National is located. My buddy Ryan is a credit card rewards points guru and was able to book our hotel for 8,000 Hyatt points. The hotel we stayed in was going for $900 dollars a night during Masters week, so the rewards points were a nice way to cut some costs (look out for future posts about credit card rewards travel).
We woke up early on Monday and drove to the course immediately to try to get as much time inside the gates. We went in through the Washington Road entrance and walked in by the practice facility. The first thing I noticed was how perfect the grass in the practice facility was. Everything was immaculate and untouched. The spectator areas along the sides of the practice range would be trampled come Sunday, but on Monday everything was still fresh and in perfect condition.
We decided to go straight to the merchandise store to get what gear we had already obsessed over. I went with a white/blue Masters hat and a navy blue Masters logo pullover. It was hard not to grab everything in site knowing that it could be years before I returned again, but I was able to contain myself. Looking back, the only things I wish I had bought were some Masters ball markers. Maybe I’ll get lucky and be chosen in the lottery for 2018 and I can pick some up!
It took us 45 minutes to get out of the merchandise tent after waiting in line and checking out. While we were in the store, we experienced the first downpour…it wouldn’t be the last. We checked our gear and headed out onto the course. We came up to the crosswalk for the first fairway and all four of our jaws hit the grass. We were all awe struck and ready to see the course. If you ever listen to someone talk about their first time at Augusta National, they always talk about the changes in elevation that the TV cameras aren’t able to capture. Not to follow in all the footsteps of those testimonies, but it really is insane how much elevation change there is on that course. We crossed over the first fairway and into a large gallery area next to the 18th fairway. The gallery area was absolute perfection- nicer than any fairway on any course I’ve ever played. As I said before, it would be trampled on Sunday but it was still freshly cut, as it was the first day with spectators. We made our way to the first food and beverage stand for the first beer… time to start the famous Masters cup collection. With a fresh beverage in hand, it was time to find some players who were out early. We made our way to the 18th tee box so we could get a view down the shoot towards the fairway. We chatted with one of the volunteers who said that Jason Day, Sandy Lyle, and Yuta Ikeda were approaching the 17th green and would be on the 18th tee box shortly. We elected to stay put as we were right on the rope behind the tee box and would be able to watch one of the biggest hitters in golf launch a drive down the famous 18th hole. The group made it to the 18th and Jason Day walked to the far end where we were standing and was close enough that I could have reached out and touched him (I didn’t). He crushed a monster drive right down the middle that left everyone in awe. On a side note, I was watching Live from the Masters the next morning and saw Ryan and I on TV during the piece they did about Jason Day. He would be the biggest name we saw that day but we felt fortunate to get some action so early.
From the 18th we went around to the 10th green, walked down the fairway a little bit to see where Bubba hit his hook around the tree during the playoff. Standing down there makes you realize what an impossible shot that was. We walked down the back nine around to Amen corner and sat in the grandstands (after replenishing our beers- green cup this time) to watch a few groups come through the famous par 3. We were able to see JB Holmes put one in tight. At this point, we experienced our first downpour. We had one umbrella in the group of four so we huddled under it together and grew a little bit closer that day. The rain was short-lived for the time being and we wound up at 16, the short par 3 where Kuchar had an ace on Sunday. This is a famous hole during the practice round because the pros hit their tee shots, then walk to the waters edge and try to skip a ball across the water up onto the green. We saw several groups go through, the last guy being Francesco Molinari who has been on the top of several leaderboards within the last few months. After he hit, we heard the worst sound imaginable at Augusta. The officials sounded the siren and came over the speakers saying that the facility had to be emptied due to inclement weather. We were disappointed but our disappointment would grow by the time we made it to the line for our merchandise we so brilliantly decided to check with every other patron that day. We stood in line for over an hour trying to get our checked bags. Eventually they would close the merchandise store and transfer the line for checked bags inside thanks to the storm overhead. By the time we had our purchases in hand, the storm had passed and the sun started to poke out. Unfortunately, the volunteers were still directing us towards the exits. Once we made it to the exit the sun was back out with blue-sky overhead- an uplifting moment on the day. We stopped and talked with a police officer and asked if they were going to open the course back up. He wouldn’t say yes or no but told us it would be in our best interest to wait outside the gate for a while- just in case. We stood outside for 30 minutes or so and would eventually be allowed to reenter. We new that storms were in the area but were unable to follow the radar because of the no cell phone rule. We decided we needed another beer, shocker I know, and headed to the practice putting green near the clubhouse. We watched the great Bernhard Langer drain a few 40 footer and tried to head to the practice range after hearing it was full of players trying to get some practice in before the next line of storms hit. We made it to Magnolia Lane and were able to look down the world famous drive just in time for the siren to sound one final time. The announcement was made that the course would be closed for the remained of the day- a dagger in our hearts.
It was definitely disappointing that we didn’t get a full day at Augusta National but I didn’t walk away with a bad taste in my mouth. I was able to go the most gorgeous golf course in the world and had the thrill of watching the Masters that week knowing I had been there just days before. I would watch that tournament in its entirety feeling like I had little more knowledge of the course. As I stated before, I had been when I was younger but this trip was different for me. My passion for the sport grew that day and I only look forward to the next time I get to walk the grounds at Augusta.
One final note- the final cup count was 4. 2 green and 2 clear. I can only imagine the collection I would have if I had a full day…