It’s (almost) the most wonderful time of the year. The wait from the end of August’s PGA Championship to the Masters in the first week of April feels interminable. Soon the golf world will converge at Augusta National, one of golf’s most cherished cathedrals. I’ve been going since 1998, and it is one of those special places that live up to the hype. Here’s my Top-5 to-do list:
Shop ’Til You Drop
I’ve seen people buy a ticket late in the day from a patron that is leaving just so they can go buy Masters memorabilia. Such is the power (and prestige) of the Masters logo, which can only be purchased on site during tournament week. I suggest shopping in the merchandise pavilion for your souvenirs when you first arrive and get it out of the way. The line can be longer than going through T.S.A. on Thanksgiving eve, but this year the merchandise pavilion is in new and expanded quarters. Augusta National has thought of everything, including an area where you can mail your goodies home. Take advantage of this option.
Get Your Steps In
May I suggest wearing comfortable shoes because there’s nothing like walking the course. The downhill trek from the 10th tee is a rite of spring. There’s 105-feet of elevation change from tee to the swale short of the green and no better example of the beauty, drama, and scale of this golf theater. Make sure to stop at the spot where Bubba Watson hooked a gap wedge through the trees to win a playoff in 2012. There’s no official plaque (yet), but there is bound to be a line of patrons snapping selfies so you can’t miss it.
It doesn’t get much better than strolling through Nos. 10–13 early in the morning. I always hang out at Chinese Fur, the 440-yard, 14th for several groups. HDTV does not do the severity of the green justice. I would take a three-putt and run.
Visit the Par-3s
The 12th hole, Golden Bell, gets all the attention for being in the heart of Amen Corner, but the short holes are all spectacular in their own way. The fourth hole is a brute to play and to watch, but No. 6 is one of the most-underrated spots to linger and enjoy the beauty that is Augusta. On the grassy bank behind and above the tee at the par-three 6th, you have a vantage point (and often are made in the shade) to see tee shots fly over your head, approach shots into the par-five 15th green, and tee shots to the par-three 16th. And if you have a badge for a practice round, No. 16, named Redbud, is a great place to hang out and watch players attempt to skip it across the pond fronting the green. It has become a time-honored tradition at Augusta. Skip it across, and you are cheered. Skip doing it, and you are greeted with a chorus of boos. And speaking of par 3s, the highlight of having a Wednesday ticket is the Par-3 Contest on ANGC’s famed short course. As sure as the azaleas bloom each spring around DeSoto Springs Pond and Ike’s Pond, the Par-3 Contest is a time for good cheer before the serious business of trying to win the season’s first major. I once saw Phil Mickelson hit a tee shot right-handed and Fuzzy Zoeller is known to draft a youngster from the gallery to hit a shot or take a putt.
Ceremonial tee shot
If you attend Thursday’s opening round, set your alarm early and plan to arrive when the gates open to witness Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player as the honorary starters. If you didn’t get a lump in your throat last year when then ANGC Chairman Billy Payne eulogized Arnold Palmer, well, I don’t believe you. It’s always thrilling to see Nicklaus and Player, even if only for one swing. I only wish they kept playing.
Have I mentioned the time I rolled my rock on the greens of Augusta National? A tee time there may top many a bucket-list, but I did the next best thing last year at the replica putting greens of Nos. 7, 14, and 16 at Berckmans Place. It’s the coolest thing this side of Rae’s Creek. The sign at the entrance reads simply, “By invitation only,” but what it really takes is a $6,000-weekly badge that is the ultimate golden ticket to the Masters. Tucked in an oasis behind the 5th green, BP, as the regulars refer to it, is your favorite sports bar on steroids. There are five full-service, all-inclusive themed restaurants and bars from which to choose. It’s a little bit like being in Las Vegas, where you know you’re not in Italy but the gondola ride still feels authentic. I could’ve spent all day on the putting green. The first putt I tried replicated the long-distance curler that Jack Nicklaus made at 16 en route to winning the 1975 Masters. I horse-shoed my second putt and had 10 feet coming back. It doesn’t get more authentic than that.
What’s on your “to-do” list at The Masters? Let us know in the comments below!