"Hey, John," my editor began. "You've been going to the Masters for what, 50 years now? How about giving us some tips on where to go and what to do in Augusta during tournament week."
\nFirst, I had to set him straight. I'm barely into my third decade as a golf scribe, so your average Pinkerton guard knows Green Jacket Land better than I do.
\n Furthermore, I spend half my time feeding at some corporate trough: the TaylorMade reception, the Tourism Ireland bash, the GWAA dinner, the USGA cocktail party, the PGA of America barbecue. Anyone mistaking me for the Chevalier de Mere should know that I typically lunch at the Red Lobster on Washington Road an hour before Tiger tees off on Sunday.
\n"Hey, John," my editor continued. "Just do it."
\nSo I jotted down a few old haunts that I can recommend. There's Sconyers Bar-B-Que, an elegant smokehouse on a hill somewhere off the Bobby Jones Expressway. (You'll never find it.) Sconyers is known for its ribs, barbecue hash and lemonade in mason jars.
\nI also carry some weight at the French Market Grille West, a rollicking Cajun joint that used to be co-owned by former CBS golf producer Frank Chirkinian. The original FMG is on Highland Avenue, close to Augusta National, but it's so busy, to use Yogi's phrase, that nobody goes there.
\nWhen I'm looking for a touch of class, I take to the veranda at the venerable Partridge Inn, where I have to squeeze past young couples in cocktail attire on my way to the bar. Dan Jenkins and his tour-pro pal Dave Marr held court at the Partridge in the '80s. Rick Reilly (and I) lodged there in the '90s. But that draws a shrug from the proprietors, who are prouder for hosting a 1923 banquet for President Warren G. Harding. Still, I can recommend the Sunday brunch.
\nCome the weekend, I'm a TBonz guy. Mark Cumins, the raconteur who fronts the joint, reserves a Saturday-night table for me and my newspaper buddies which is cool, because we get to walk right past all the folks who have been waiting for three hours. (Well, not waiting exactly. The TBonz crowd spills out of the bar area into the parking lot, where some revelers forfeit their tables because they're having too much fun outside.) On Sunday night, after I've banged out 150 lines of polished prose, I return to TBonz non accompagne for a midnight supper of fried shrimp, french fries and 7-Up. You should arrive earlier to see the winning caddie buy drinks for the losing caddies another tradition unlike any other.
\n"Hey, John," my editor barked. "Does your day begin at dusk?"
\nNo, but my press badge gives me access to the Augusta National clubhouse, locker room and press building, which are staffed by dozens of employees dedicated to my happiness. Consequently, I'm a poorer guide than the legacy badge holders who line up at the gates at 8 a.m. Fortunately the legacies are easy to spot look for umbrellas, hooded raincoats and folding aluminum chairs and they're more than willing to help Masters newbies. Or you can simply follow them through the turnstiles and study their moves. If you have written your name in black marker on the back of a chair, for example, you can leave it in a desirable spot and claim it hours later. "We've got the best seats in sports," a sunburned woman told me last year. "We walk in the morning. We're front row on 18 in the afternoon."
\nThere are always a few surprises. Last year I scooped the blogosphere on the introduction of Masters-branded potato chips and Moon Pies. This year I can warn badge holders that the walk-in gate on Washington Road is history. The new pedestrian entrance is on Berckmans Road. "There are a few other little changes that we haven't announced," an Augusta National spokesman told me, adding, "That's just the way we like to do things."
\nTo sum up: Plan, but don't overplan. Leave your cellphones and beepers at the checkstands. And if David Feherty challenges you to a bicycle race on Walton Way, just ... say ... NO!
\nNot that he will.