I can’t begin to put into words the excitement and anticipation I had to attend this event! To me, the Masters is like the Superbowl of golf… no other event like it! This year I was lucky enough to score 2 tickets to the Friday round, and just like this event was on my bucket list, my buddy Phil didn’t even ask his wife when I contacted him about going. Most golf fanatics would likely move their wedding date to tale part in this event if needed, and this is no joke.
We got up at around 5 am on Friday morning as we had about an hours drive from Lexington to Augusta. Got there just before 6:30 am, and the crowd had already begun to line up at the main gate to enter this holy grail of a golf course! It almost felt like I was a kid going to Disney World for the first time! “Surreal” is the only word I can use to describe it. It was 5 degrees celsius, and as any Canadian, we were wearing shorts while everyone else lined up wearing pants and jackets. We started chatting with a couple of UK fellas in the line that were as excited as we were!! Coincidentally, we actually ran into these same guys about 4 times on the course that day, which you’d think wouldn’t be likely given the fact there are over 40K people during tournament rounds.
When the gates opened, we began moving towards the security gates, which didn’t present any issues seeing as we were pretty aware of what we could and couldn’t bring on the course. Our first stop was the merchandise shop, and let me tell ya, the only time I’ve seen a crowd of men shopping in such a frenzy tends to be around December 24th.
Their setup is nothing short of an art form with staff at every corner to get you what you want, and then an abundance of check-out staff as you work your way out and pay. About $300 later (and yes, I held myself back), we decided it was time to take our new foldable Masters chairs and work our way to some of the popular spots to drop them off. One of the marvels at the Masters we had read about is that you put your chair anywhere on the course with your name on it, and nobody will touch it. You might be reluctant to believe this at first, but sure enough, we set up our chairs on the 17th tee box, overlooking the 16th green, and noticed a few times while walking by that they hadn’t moved.
We then proceeded to walk the course seeing as the players only started teeing off at around 8 am, so at this point it was still pretty early. When watching this event on TV, the course doesn’t appear to be anywhere as “hilly” as one might think, but the truth is, there aren’t very many flat spots on this course, which includes the greens. I can now understand why even pros struggle with parts of this course because the bumps and undulations make for many varying factors. Again, TV doesn’t do justice to what this course has to offer in person.
Upon walking by one of the greens, we noticed about 5 golf carts with one of them holding all of the flags for the round that day. As we’re walking by, we noticed about 15-20 guys on the green with various instruments and measuring tapes evaluating where to cut the hole. As we approached the green on 14th further out, we began speaking to a couple of staff, two older fellas, and one of them asked if we had seen the “flag crew” on the course. “We did!” I said… He then proceeded to tell me that earlier on they had 23 guys setting up a hole location earlier on one of the greens, so I had to ask: “So, can you tell me sir what they’re discussing or trying determine when setting up pin placement that day?”… He looks and me and kind of chuckles and says: “Oh I don’t know, probably something along the lines of (in a deep southern accent of course):
Guy 1: “Hey, where’d you go for dinner last night? Oh, that seems to be a good spot for the pin!”
Guy 2: “Yup, let’s set that up right there!”
We had a good laugh over it with these gentlemen, who were extremely pleasant and talkative, and this was the same trend with anyone we met on the course and spoke to that day. It’s such a great atmosphere and everyone just seems to be in a great mood!
We walked down 10th and made our way through Amen Corner which is likely one of the biggest spectator spots on the course. The scenery, smells and beauty are breathtaking, almost to the point where “nature” looks fake at times. Even the fairways look and feel like astroturf, but they’re not. As we worked our way towards the 7th hole, we walked by this tall blond who was noticeable, but I didn’t recognize her right away. I then noticed her watch (yes, I’m a watch fanatic), a Richard Mille time piece, which sponsors Bubba, and sure enough, we just came face to face with Angie Watson, Bubba’s wife, so I just stopped my buddy and was like “That’s Bubba’s wife!!!” and we pretty much looked like 2 little school girls giggling over who we had just seen right there in front of us walking.
As we continued making our way through the course and watching some of the players coming through, we crossed paths with Patrick Reed handing his wedge to one of the officials. We were literally just standing 3 feet away from a PGA pro’s club and were intrigued by what was happening. The official made his way to a cart parked beside the fairway and started looking more closely at the hosel and lower shaft of the club. There was another official sitting in the cart so there’s now about 20 guys standing around this cart listening in on the conversation between the officials to see what was going on. It appeared as though the shaft was warped towards the hosel area, so one of them took out a rules book, and we overheard them say: “We can’t give it back to him, he’ll have to finish with 13”, so I’m not sure if he damaged it purposely or whether it was a defect, but he wasn’t getting that club back. Not sure whether that wedge was the cause of his score on Friday, but he didn’t have a great round, which was too bad because I like Reed! His competitive nature during the Ryder Cup last year made me an even bigger fan.
The wind was picking up towards mid morning as we worked our way back up toward the 4th tee box, we saw 2-3 groups continuously missing the green on this par 3 (230 yards). It’s an intimidating hole to begin with, so add some wind to the mix and even these guys were struggling to make anything stick. At one point the pairing of Bubba and Jimmy Walker were about to tee it up and this kid standing beside us by the rope looks at Jimmy and says: “Hey Jimmy, if you get a hole in one can I have your ball?”. Jimmy turns to him and says: “Sure, tell you what, if I hit the green I’ll give you my ball!”. Again, had a bit of a chuckle over this! It’s such a neat feeling being so close to these guys and interacting with them. You can’t do this in virtually any other sport because you never get that close to the athletes during an event.
At this point, Phil’s fitbit had registered over 14km of walking and 60 flights of stairs, so we decided to grab our merchandise bags (which we had checked in) and go to our chairs. Because the pin hadn’t been placed on the green of the 16th when we first picked our spot, we weren’t really sure how far along the 17th tee box we should put them, and turned out the pin placement that day was right in front of of the TV tower obstructing our view, so we stayed there for a bit, but decided to go setup elsewhere just after we saw Bernhard Langer get to about 10 inches from the hole on 16. A lot of the veterans such as Fred Couples, Langer and even Mickelson get a lot of cheers anytime they approach a tee box. There’s a sense of respect and admiration that follows these guys around the course which obviously is well merited. The fact that these guys can still compete with guys half their age makes it even more impressive.
We decided to bring our chairs towards the bottom of the hill on 15, just before the water hazard. This is the hole Tiger woods hit his 2nd shot approach to about 2 feet of the cup in the 2011 Masters. A lot of the long hitters try to get there in 2, but it’s a risky shot considering the green slopes towards the water if you hit it short, and if you over shoot by too much, you can also get in trouble which Rickie Fowler found out after over cooking it and hitting the water behind the green while we were there. We stayed in that area for a bit considering we hadn’t seen some of the last groups yet, including Branden Grace who had decided to lay up and then get a hole-out eagle over the water from about 80 yards. The crowd went absolutely nuts!!
So, after the last group went by on 15th, and we had already been at the course for about 12+ hours, we decided to start heading towards 18th to see the rest of the action. My buddy wanted to setup by the tee box, but the crowd had already picked up significantly in that area, so we decided to go just before large left bunker where most guys end up hitting their second shot seeing as the gallery at the green was also pretty packed.
We saw a nice spot by the ropes with hardly anyone there, so walked right over, and sure enough there are our new UK buddies we had met that morning (4th run-in that day with these guys!). Started chatting and recap our day when a couple of golf balls land on the fairway just in front of us. There were also a couple of local girls standing beside us which we also began talking to and they went on about how the Masters is the only thing that brings people to that area. Soon after we see Jordan Spieth walk up the fairway up to his ball. He and his caddie are talking when all of the sudden we see them looking in our direction. The girls of course start waving thinking “OH MY GOD HE’S LOOKING AT US!!”, so one of them waves at them. All of the sudden here comes Spieth running directly towards us, and at this point these girls are losing their shit, and come to think of it, so was I!! He approaches us and calmly asks to get through, so I lift the rope up to let him go by and there he goes!! To the washroom!!! A few minutes later, he came back through, fist pumped a couple of us, and went on his way to hit his second shot. That was a great way to end our day at the Masters, literally coming face to face with a green jacket winner who really had to go! I can go home a happy man now!