During your visit to the Masters, you meet and interact with scores of fellow patrons. The ice-breaking lines are easy. You all like golf. You all are amazed at the conditions. Oh, and you all like golf. Soon enough the conversation turns to where you live and your epic journey on getting to a small town in Georgia. Most people I found seem to go for multiple days – sponsored by their company, received as a gift from a vendor, or by burning leprechaun blood combined with golf tees. Yet no one I spoke to had won tickets through the online, public lottery. People were amazed that I had this great fortune, which makes the following story all that more incredible:
Last June an email popped up in my Gmail inbox.
From: Masters Tournament.
Subject: 2014 Masters Tickets
Message Preview: 2014 Masters Daily Tournament Tickets Random Selection Congratulations. The Ma...
Needles of adrenaline raced down my arms. My hands were dead weight in a sea of anticipation.
I opened the email.
Congratulations. The Masters Tournament is pleased to announce that our random selection process for 2014 Daily Tournament tickets has been completed and your application has been selected. You have until July 15, 2013 to make your payment or your ticket allocation will be forfeited.
“Practice rounds? Tournament rounds? Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God. "
Please click the link below to access the Masters Ticket site sign-in page. SIGN IN by entering your complete email and password.
"Fuck FORGOT PASSWORD! Oh my God. Oh my God."
3 minutes later, I discovered that I was selected for the opportunity to buy tickets for Saturday at the Masters.
Saturday, April 12, 2014.
My dad's 59th birthday.
Later that day, I called my dad and invited him to accompany me with the Masters; yet, the serendipity of this story isn't finished here.
For Christmas, I ordered a leather key chain from Etsy with the coordinates of the Masters engraved (33° 30′ 0″ N, 82° 1′ 20″ W, if you're wondering). I figured that he would look at it in the months to come and look forward to this once-in-a-lifetime event and bucket list for any golfer.
2 weeks later, he told me had cancer.
Radiation started in February. 9 weeks. Every. Day.
Yet coincidentally, every day he had those geographical coordinates staring back at him - reminding him that on his birthday, this year, he was going to the Masters with his son.
Saturday, April 12, 2014
Slivers of light creep through the tall pines that dot the parking lot at Augusta. Walking steadily and purposefully, we make our way through the main gate. It's 7:30 am and the early morning rays cast an ethereal glow on the white and green fixtures of Augusta Golf Course. Passing through the security checkpoint, our stride takes us pass the practice range on our left. A beautifully manicured set of landing zones and pins stand proudly against a quiet backdrop. This concept of immaculate care interwoven with pride and integrity will be carried throughout the day.
The paved path beings to slightly curl to our right and we pass the first of many pristine restrooms that occupy the course. The ground beneath us begins to slope downward as a large concessions pavilion slowly frames our vision to the left. An equally large memorabilia pavilion begins to mirror its brother to the right. Slowly, the two large yet inconspicuous buildings funnel our vision to the horizon. Our eyes scan up and a small patch of green glistens with the morning dew.
We are here.
A firsthand experience at the Master's is like no other. There are sporting events made for TV. Sporting events made for tailgating. And sporting events made for Heaven. The Masters is the latter.
The HD cameras that spot the landscape hardly do the course justice. To get a sense of the fairways at Augusta, think AstroTurf - the finest AstroTurf of all the land. But then replace the synthetic grass with real grass and then you'll start to understand the fairways at Augusta. Perfect. Pristine. And *every* fairway is like this. You could search the entire course and yet every spot is the same firmness, the same perfect cut, and ready for potential infamy.
And if the fairways represent AstroTurf then on this day, with the warm Georgia sun baking the course, the greens represent soul-crushing sheets of glass. While the camera adds 15 pounds to a person, a camera turns a three-dimensional, undulating work of wonder into a flat sea of calm green. Standing there in person, every approach shot seems to be uphill while pristine deep bunkers guard false fronts, sudden dips and razor sharp pin placements. Hole number 10 could easily be converted into an intermediate ski slope - huge elevation changes and a rippling fairway that would make Salvador Dali jealous.
The number of staff, attention to detail, and service from the Masters is second to none. Friendly "good mornings" and brief yet positive exchanges at cash registers are the norm. As I entered the gentlemen's restroom, the attendant at the front door offered to fix my collar. Albeit a simple gesture, it was a theme that reverberated throughout the day. Not to be outdone, the greens on the course receive equally exquisite (if not better) attention. In the early morning light, six staff attend to each green, carefully trimming, rolling, and manicuring them in a rehearsed dance that echoed across the 18 greens. Giant tail-like brooms sweep away errant pollen buds before the players even take their first sip of coffee.
The public lottery for ticket sales and exclusivity of Masters membership provide a crowd that borders on perfection (*Note, this was a Saturday without Phil or Tiger so the crowds were lighter). Patrons all have their spots and the opportunity to be a handshake away from world class golfers is becomes a common occurrence. Throughout the day I found myself closer to the action than if I was pasted to a 60" HD TV on a stool at the bar. On Saturday, the glass screen melted away and I had the privileged to walk alongside Couples as he casually sauntered down the Par 5 15th; to line up directly perpendicular from Adam Scott's tee shot and awe at a golf swing of perfection; to witness the jovial smile of Matt Kuchar as he glanced at the woman next to me who had just become the recipient of a half-broken, somersaulting tee; and to crouch just a few yards behind Jordan Speith on the practice putting green, watching as his youth confidence showed me the line to the cup.
Everyone cherishes their favorite spots on the golf course. We hold them close to our heart - scared vows where a slip of the tongue could suddenly send our cherished perch into an unwelcome mob of patrons. In some ways, no one wants to share their secret locations; yet in other ways, it doesn't really matter. Everyone's experience is different and we all need to find our own hidden gem.
I discovered one of my diamonds mid-afternoon on Saturday. As logic dictates on a golf course, the 1st tee, 9th green, 10th tee, and 18th green all congregate back to the same location. On this special afternoon, I found myself watching approaches and putts to 9 and then turning around to see similar approaches and putts on 18. Surprisingly, that wasn't even the best part. I learned to time the putts on 9, so I could make my way over to an empty 10th tee box and situate myself just a few yards from the right-hand tee box marker. A-list golfers came barreling up the ninth tee - Kuchar, then Fuyrk, then Couples. Adam Scott, Jordan Speith and Jonas Blixt followed. And as tradition dictates, after finishing their putts on 9, they headed to the 10th tee - arriving at a daunting downhill par 4 that was accompanied by a widely grinning patron just a few yards from the right-hand tee box marker.
My Favorite Memory
On Saturday, the gates open at 8am and a large throng of patrons, respectfully congregate between the concessions and memorabilia pavilions waiting to be let on the course. As the ropes drop, patrons disperse like uninhibited marbles searching for a resting place to station their Masters-emblazed camping chair. After setting our chairs just a few rows back on the 18th green (you can leave your chairs all day, they won't be touched), we now still had 2 hours before the first golfer (Rory) would tee off.
With a coffee and egg salad sandwich in hand, we trace the footsteps of Bobby Jones and Sam Sneed and carefully make our way around the back nine. With only about 20% of patrons present, these two hours provide some of the best magic of the day. The early morning smell of golf accompanies us as we arrive at Amen Corner.
I stare down the green of the infamous Par 3 12th. The rope keeps me just a mere 5 yards from the Championship tee box. Setting my coffee down to my side, I close my eyes and breathe. Quiet, calm breaths. The noise of the morning shuffle melts away and I open my eyes. Like the golfers in the coming hours, I rotate sideways, turn my head, and mentally cast my tee shot to the Heavens.
So on this Saturday, April 12th, 2014, on my dad's birthday, four weeks after completing radiation therapy, we had the privilege of playing the back nine of Augusta Golf Course before the golfers had even set foot on the first tee.
As I'm sure you can tell, the events from this past weekend were absolutely incredible. Check back soon to read Part 2 of this story where I'll share short insights, tips and observations from spending Saturday at the Masters.