Nobody complains. That’s your first clue about the patron experience at the Masters. Everybody walks about with a smile on their face.
Tickets aren’t hugely expensive ($75 for Monday-Wednesday or $93.75 Thursday-Sunday) but they are especially hard to come by.
Here’s a little look at what the lucky few can expect at Augusta National.
Parking: It’s on a first come, first served basis. Get there before sunrise to guarantee your spot, which is free, or try and find somewhere off Washington Road. You can park in someone’s drive, but they’ll charge you anywhere between $10-$20 for the privilege. Parking isn’t ever an issue here as Augusta National own so much of the surrounding land. The gates don’t open until 8am but most people arrive 6.30am onwards and simply wait.
The Shop: “Oh my God. Oh my God,” said one patron as she walked through the entrance of the brand new merchandise shop. It's that good. The new building took just 20 weeks to erect and is double the size of the previous one, which was already huge.
The queuing system is roughly 100 yards in length but swirls and winds its way to the front entrance. It’s constantly moving, all the while edging you ever closer to emptying your wallet.
There are nearly 200 different styles of hat to try on and around 40 different polo shirts, t-shirts, windvests, sweaters and so on. You can get brollies, special Masters Pro V1s, cups, sunglasses, garden gnomes (yes, garden gnomes) weird posh looking dressed-up teddy bears – upper class teddy bears (yeah, I’ve no idea, either) – and wooden signs for the man cave. That’s just scratching the surface.
Catering: Outside, there’s the beer. Oh the beer. You can get standard lager ($4), which is Miller Lite, and then there’s the ‘Craft’ beer, which is the real winner at ($5). It’s cheap, it tastes great, and I have no idea what it is. The ‘Import Lager’ is Stella Artois ($5) but you can drink that at home so what’s the point. There is little, if any, branding that’s not ‘Masters’ or ‘Augusta National’. There are no bars, as such, just long food hall-type areas called Concessions, where you shuffle in and grab everything you can get your hands on before heading out the other side. You can’t go backwards, so if you stumbled on your round and left somebody out, you’re back in the queue. Mind you, your round won’t be very big as you can only buy two beers at a time.
A Pimento Cheese sandwich is your official Taste of Augusta and it’ll set you back $1.50. I’d try it once but buy an Egg Salad (also $1.50) as back-up.
The Course: Step through the gates and your first site of the golf course will be the view across the bottom of the first fairway and all across the walking area between 18 and 9 and all the way down towards the 17th fairway. Your first viewing experience will likely be the first tee, and it’s probably one of the worst spots on the course. They don’t really favour grandstands at Augusta so best to keep moving and try and find a spot that works.
Leave your Augusta-branded mobile seat down and you’re good. Once it’s down, you can go wander about for as long as you want and return to your seat and have a rest. Nobody is allowed to touch your chair. It’s yours for the day if you get their first. Just make sure you put your name in the little slot on the back so you can prove it’s yours. And to get their first, you need to be quick but obey the ‘no running’ rule, which is precisely why people queue at 6.30am. Even players have to abide by the timings and are not allowed on the course for a practice before 8am, or on the range before 7am.
Best spots for viewing: Go to the tenth tee, watch the drives and get your first taste of just how hilly Augusta really is. That spot also allows you to get very close to the action. Most people also tend to keep walking onwards after the tenth green, but if you head up to the 11th tee, you can hear the players chin-wag with each other, all in relative seclusion as this is one of the quietest parts of the course.
Walk all the way down into the hub of Amen Corner and, to be honest, you could probably stay there all day and have a great time. No.16 is great fun if you can find a gap between the crowds directly behind the tee.
Banter: Despite what preconceptions about might have about marshals back home in the UK, everyone is friendly here. Nobody will bark orders at you unless you’re doing something wrong. The green jackets – members at Augusta – are very friendly and will answer any questions you have, and the staff on site are there to help and go out their way to do so.
Night out: Broad Street in downtown Augusta is your best bet. Most people disperse and go home because a) it’s too expensive to stay downtown, and b) most people just have a badge for the day so simply go home. But Broad Street is where all the bars and restaurants are. It’s pretty safe and you have lots of options. The best place is the Pizza Joint. It has great staff, a great menu and lots of TVs so you can watch Golf Channel long into the night.
Tip: Yes, the merchandise shop is the only place you can buy Masters merchandise – but a number of the local thrift stores do sell merch from previous Masters, which can be pretty cool. Expect to pay inflated prices, but nothing too crazy.