This week marks one of my favorite events of the year: The Masters. For those who don't know, The Masters is one of the 4 majors in golf. The others are the US Open, The Open Championship and the PGA Championship. But the Masters holds a special place in my heart.
The main reason this tournament is special to me is because it has been an event enjoyed by my family for decades. My granddad bought his first Masters badges in the early 1950's and loved going every year. When he was no longer able to attend for health reasons, he loved the fact that we were still able to go and had a lot of fun talking about it with us. He told me a lot of great stories about the Masters, and seeing the tournament through his eyes definitely shines a light on how much things have changed over the years.
When he first started attending the Masters he said they didn't have ropes blocking the patrons from the course like they do today. But there were so few people there, that it didn't matter. As an entrepreneur, he had friends who were members of Augusta National, which gave him a bit of a different perspective as well. He said when it was especially hot they would just watch the tournament on TV in Butler Cabin and when the leaders were coming up 18, they would walk out, follow them up the fairway and circle the green to watch the final putts. That is a far cry from the Masters of today, and I loved hearing all of his stories.
Even since I started attending in 2006, a lot has changed. Every year it feels like they make some kind of improvement, and the past few years they have made some huge changes. For instance, where we used to park is now a state of the art driving range where you can watch the pros getting ready for their round. There also used to be a road that you had to cross from the parking lot in order to get to the course, but Augusta National bought up all that surrounding land and removed the road so you don't have to deal with that nuisance anymore. And this year I am looking forward to seeing their new Golf Shop, which apparently has double the space to make getting around easier, because the previous shop would get so crowded it was hard to move.
Every aspect of the Masters Tournament is done just a little bit better than other events, which is part of what makes it so special to golf fans. One example is the food prices, which are notoriously high at sporting events like this, are incredibly low here. A beer is $4, coke $2, a BBQ sandwich is $3 and their famous pimento cheese is only $1.50. They have even innovated the restroom situation, stationing workers inside, guiding people in line to the open stations, speeding up the lines and getting you back out on the course that much faster. This attention to detail shows how much thought that they put into each and every aspect of the event, and it makes the experience that much more special as a result.
One thing that I think people who haven't been before don't realize is that phones, cameras and other electronic devices are not allowed on the grounds on tournament days. And if you are caught with a cell phone, you run the risk of having your badge revoked. While this might sound awful to some, it makes the tournament that much greater because everyone who is there is present and engaged in the event taking place in front of them. You talk to the people around you, watch a lot of golf, eat a lot of food and always have a great time. I end up feeling incredibly refreshed after the tournament because it is 4 days away from technology, spending all day outside in an unbelievably pristine environment, watching the best golfers in the world compete for the title of Masters Champion.
One of my favorite things about the Masters are the things you don't see on TV. The little behind-the-scenes moments that you only experience by being there. For example, in 2006, my first year at the Masters, we were waiting at the green on #1 for Tiger's group to come through. We were sitting in the grandstands behind the green and the sun was so hot, I was getting burnt to a crisp. I decided that I needed to run back to the shop to buy a hat and some sun screen and figured I had just enough time to do it before Tiger came through. After buying my hat, I was walking back up the fairway and just on the other side of the ropes was Tiger, walking up towards his ball, not 5 feet away from me. I'm looking over at him thinking "man, how surreal is this? Tiger Woods at Augusta." All of a sudden a girl in front of me yelled out "I LOVE YOU TIGER!!!" and then a huge, probably 6'8" white guy right in front of her, with an incredibly deep voice said "MEEE TOOO TIGER!" The whole place erupted and even Tiger busted out laughing and looked over to see who had said it. Tiger is notorious for not letting anything distract him, especially at the Masters, and seeing this very human moment break through his concentration is just one example of why being there in person is so cool.
I have friends that ask me how I don't get bored going every year, but the only people who ask that question are people who've never been before. I'm like a kid on Christmas every year I am fortunate enough to attend and if they ever make it down there they will see why. Augusta National is a special place, and you can feel it the second you step foot through their gates.
Are you rooting for anyone this year? Personally, I'm hoping to see Tiger come out and show this next generation why this was considered his course for so many years. Let me know who you're rooting for in the comments.