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The 2023 Masters Tournament
Checking off a bucket list item at Augusta National
For as long as I can remember, my dad and I have entered the annual “lottery” for tickets to The Masters, the best golf tournament in the world, held at the Augusta National Golf Club. Twenty years ago we had to mail in our entry, but of course today it’s a simple online registration. Nobody knows how many applications they receive, but needless to say, we’ve both come up empty-handed…. until this year.
Like the location you were in when you heard about 9/11 for the first time, I’m not sure I’ll ever forget the moment when I saw the email on my phone with the subject line “Your Ticket Application Was Selected”. I literally stopped in my tracks while walking to a business meeting in downtown Chicago in July of 2022. My application was selected for two tickets to the Monday practice round on April 3, 2023.
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Receiving that email set off a chain reaction of events that resulted in one of the most memorable days of my life set in the middle of an unforgettable golf trip.
Winning two tickets made the decision easy - I would take my dad to the Masters to see Augusta National. We’re obviously both big golf fans, but also massive fans of the Masters, having watched it religiously every year.
After sharing the news with him in-person during a visit to Winnipeg in August 2022, he dashed to the storage room and came back with a paper map of the United States to first identify where Augusta, and really, Georgia, was located. From there we decided we would build a father-son golf trip around the day at the Masters, and logistics discussions occurred for the next 7 months.
Getting to Augusta
We flew from Vegas to Atlanta on Saturday, April 1, having just enjoyed Sin City for my sister’s 40th birthday. We picked up our golf clubs in ATL, picked up a rental car, and drove through bumper-to-bumper traffic at 9pm ET to the Moxy Hotel in Midtown Atlanta. The “check-in” was literally part of the lobby bar and I had to yell at the front-desk attendant/bartender to get our room keys due to the DJ blaring rap music throughout the room. Great setting for two old white guys hauling golf clubs.
After a friendly burger and beer at a local pub, we woke the next morning and headed east to Athens, GA, home to the University of Georgia bulldogs. We played the University course, checked out the campus, randomly sat next to a world-class, knighted pianist at a popular campus restaurant, then drove further east to Aiken, South Carolina to rest up before the big day.
The grounds to Augusta National Golf Club open to patrons at 8:30am. I woke up like it was Christmas morning, around 6. It was 25 minutes from our hotel in Aiken to the course, so we hit the road around 7:30am.
Driving to the course as the sun was rising, we listened to the local radio station for all the latest traffic tips related to the tournament. Once we arrived on Washington Road, about a mile from the course, it became stand-still traffic. This gave us a chance to see the equipment trucks parked across the street from all the major golf companies, and it allowed me to peak down the famed Magnolia Lane (players-only entrance).
The Augusta National Golf Club
The instant we turned into the grounds and left the care of the Augusta police directing traffic, everything changed while under the design of ANGC. For the next ~7 hours, we were part of the greatest crowd-organizing I’ve ever witnessed, coupled with the best customer service ever experienced at a sporting event.
Once we parked our car in a field of vehicles as far as the eye could see, we left our phones in the glove box (no phones allowed) and walked through the North Gate. The first thing you notice is the expansiveness of the property. We were inside the grounds, parking among thousands of cars, and still nowhere near the most famous 18 holes in America. There are tons of different buildings, secret roads built through the bushes, and probably a bunch of other structures/pathways that we’re not even allowed to see.
Walking through the gates, checking our tickets, and a quick security scan gave us the first sense of the day we were about to have: Tons of open lines, no waiting, and plenty of “welcome to the Masters” greetings.
We walked the long path passing the administration building and the new press conference center, towards the clubhouse. The first thing golf-related we walked by and saw was the practice area including the driving range and practice bunkers. As we approached, Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Fred Couples, and Tom Kim were leaving the area to go play the back nine. Mind blown.
Aside from the expansiveness of the property, the other thing that’s amazing is just how pristine the conditions are. It always looks majestic on TV, but there truly is not a blade of grass out of place. The beautiful green of the fairways and rough, rolls into the perfectly-laid brown pine straw.
We arrived with very few goals for the day. Your first time at Augusta is much more about seeing the property, rather than any particular golfer, so we didn’t care to follow anyone. Instead, we approached the first tee and decided to walk all 18 holes. As we walked up the hill to the first green, there was one person - Tim Mickelson, Phil’s brother and caddie, dressed in the full caddy uniform, dropping a half-dozen golf balls all over the green to witness the slopes and then scribble notes in his notepad.
As anyone knows, the greens are what make the golf course so difficult, and seeing them in person is pretty wild. Most of the greens are quite small, and the number of severe slopes they have on such a tiny surface is very intimidating. I can’t imagine how many putts an average golfer would have if they were to play a round in tournament conditions.
We walked the rest of the front nine and saw the area where Louis Oostheuzen holed his second shot for an albatross on hole 2, saw the famous drive-able third hole with a ridiculous green, saw the slope off the sixth tee box where patrons bask in the sun below the players teeing off, saw the seventh green completely protected by bunkers, and saw my new favorite hole, the eighth. The tee box is kind of stranded in the middle of the property, and if it wasn’t for ropes setup for the tournament, you might not realize it’s a tee box.
The tee shot on 8 goes down hill and then the second shot is blind, up a massive hill and around a corner to the very narrow green. We’ve seen Tiger hit an unbelievable approach there in 2011 for eagle during his final day rally, and it’s just such a fun hole.
During our opening nine viewing, we had to check out the concessions, famous for having a small menu, low prices, and great service. It did not disappoint.
Aside from the prices, the logistics are incredible. Because of the small menu, everything is pre-packaged and laid out like a cafeteria, so you walk through, grab what you want off the shelves, walk to the end, pick up your beers that are already poured in the Masters cups, and go to one of 40 check-out lines, tap your card, and done. Zero waiting, great service, happy patrons.
After slugging a couple morning beers, naturally we needed to find a bathroom. Again, with at least 30,000 people in attendance, you’d think lineups would be standard. Nope. First, every bathroom is a fully-constructed building with dozens of urinals and stalls. Every volunteer attendant is smiling, happy to be there, and greeting you like you’re entering a Michelin-star restaurant rather than an outdoor restroom. When directing traffic, the order was simply shouted “if you need a stall, stay on the wall”.
At 11am, we took a small break and watched the players on the range. It’s always a treat to watch the best players in the world hit balls, and at that venue, it’s even better as you can sit on the bleachers and admire the purity of their swings. Jordan Spieth, Scottie Scheffler, Bryson DeChambeau, Justin Thomas, and many more.
After walking past the practice putting green (you can get super close) and saying hi to Justin Rose, it was time to walk the second nine.
Everyone speaks of the hilliness of Augusta National and it’s absolutely true. The clubhouse is kind of at the top of the property, and from there down to the lowest point at hole 16, the elevation drop is equivalent to that of Niagara Falls! It makes for a challenging and walk and Dave and I were both grateful we didn’t have to haul the heavy staff bags with which the caddies are burdened.
The second nine offers so many amazing spots. The tenth hole has the famous cabins down the left side that house out-of-town members (we overheard that Condoleezza Rice was staying there that week), and that Rory’s errant tee shot found in 2011. The approach shot uphill to the tenth hole is super difficult, and from the ropes on the left side of the green, we saw a group of patrons hovering around the “Bubba spot” in the right rough where he hit the hooking pitching wedge in 2012.
A really cool experience was walking back behind the tee of hole 11, the hardest on the course. The 500+ yard par 4 is incredibly intimidating and kicks off the all-important Amen Corner. Conveniently, our crappy digital camera ran out of batteries right as we got down to the 12th tee, but soaking in that spot with the thousands of patrons is so cool, you can see why it’s so popular. Not only can you watch approaches to 11, all of 12, and tee shots on 13, but you’ve got grandstands, concessions, and restrooms all in the same area (though you wouldn’t know it from television).
We watched Tyrell Hatton hit 13 in two, walked up the bunker-less 14th, and then saw Collin Morikawa play hole 15. The shallowness of the 15th green makes you really appreciate how the players can hit hybrids in there with complete accuracy and still hold the green.
Sixteen was the highlight of the back nine for me and we actually saw it earlier in the day so I was able to snap a picture. Obviously it has so much history, and when you’re there and see where it’s nestled, right between 6 and 17, you can see why the roars are so impactful on a Sunday. We walked up to the green on the opposite side of the water, a very popular spot for patrons to place their chairs. There, we learned that patrons can place their official Masters chair in designated seating areas, and leave it there all day. Throughout the day, if nobody is sitting in a chair, you’re welcome to sit with the understanding that if the owner comes back, you get up. The cool part about this section to the left of the pond on 16 is that on TV, I always wondered why people sat there when it seemed so far from the action. However, being there in person, you realize the pond is quite narrow so you’re close enough to the green, and because the green slopes so viciously towards the pond, you have a great view of the hole while players are putting.
We walked the very difficult 18th hole with Dustin Johnson, Kevin Kisner, and Gary Woodland, and then walked to the famous oak tree behind the clubhouse. That’s a famous spot to meet people if you’re lost (remember, no cell phones), and we were able to catch up with my buddy Matt Sacks who was there with his dad and uncle.
From there we walked past the par 3 course on the property, then around to the front of the clubhouse where they take your photo at the end of Magnolia Lane.
We crushed the pro shop by picking up some great Masters apparel, then walked all the way down to Amen Corner one more time to soak in the memories before heading out.
If you’re into golf, I can’t emphasize enough how you should try to get to Augusta in your lifetime. As I reflected upon the experience, I realized that everyone goes to the tournament and the course for the first time with the highest of expectations, and I have yet to meet someone that hasn’t had those expectations surpassed. It’s just the best, and they’ve thought of everything to make it as enjoyable as possible.
The rest of the trip featured more driving, golfing, eating and drinking in the Charleston, SC area. We played three more rounds, explored the historic city, and enjoyed playing the Cougar Point course at Kiawah Island, followed by lunch on the patio at the Ocean Course on Masters Thursday (the final day of our trip).
It had been about 22 years since Dave and I took a golf trip just the two of us, and this did not disappoint. It was so fun spending some quality time, exploring a new area of the US, and experiencing Augusta together.
If you made it this far in the blog, I’m impressed. I’m excited to read this post years from now, and I hope I get to attend the Masters again.
Thanks for reading,
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