OK, you've got your ticket to the Masters. Now what? To make the most of your Masters experience, it's best to strategize. Here are your dos and don'ts for the biggest week in golf.
DO: Go on Wednesday and Thursday. If you’re there on a Wednesday, you can watch the pros on the championship course in the morning, then take in the par-3 tournament in the afternoon. You get to see legends like Nicklaus and Player tee it up, you get to see 6-year-old kids caddie for their famous fathers and you get to see the most beautiful short course in golf. The eighth and ninth holes, on opposite sides of Ike’s Pond, are the best for viewing thanks to their broad hillsides, but arrive early as they fill up quickly. The best chance to see an ace is at the second hole, which measures 70 yards and at the third, a 90-yarder. Spend the rest of the afternoon walking and studying the championship course in near solitude, as players are rarely on the course at that hour.
Thursday is another favorite day to attend. The massive crowds of the Monday-Wednesday practice rounds have dispersed, and the patrons who are in attendance are spread out nicely, because there are no leaders to follow just yet. In addition, you’ll be able to watch your favorite players, no matter who they are, because once the weekend arrives, some of them might be absent, having missed the cut.
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DON'T: Get to the ceremonial opening tee shots late. One of the hoariest Masters traditions is the honorary starters hitting the ceremonial opening tee shot (another reason why Thursday is great to go). In recent years, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player have handled these duties. Palmer will pass in 2016. The spectacle is superb, but to see anything at all, you’ll need to arrive when the gates open and walk briskly to find your place at the first tee. Thursday feels great, with so much anticipation in the air, and the party-like atmosphere of Wednesday’s par-3 event has given way to the sobering reality that the field is playing for the year’s first major championship.
DO: Find time to watch from the small bleachers behind the 12th tee. During tournament rounds, that small bleacher spot behind the 12th tee is prime, as it’s an elevated position for watching approach shots into the 11th green and to take in the tee shot at the scary, watery 12th, one of the world’s greatest par-3s, as well as the tee shot at 13. Even if you can’t find room there, the slope that leads down to it to the right of the 11th fairway provides ideal viewing.
Another preferred vantage spot is at the outside elbow of the dogleg at the par-5 13th, where azaleas, bunkers, fairways and Rae’s Creek are all on display and where the risk/reward second shot is one of the greatest ever devised. Unfortunately, additional tree plantings in recent years have obscured some of the superior viewing opportunities at 13, even as it’s made the hole more challenging for players.
I’m also fond of the right side of the 10th fairway, where you gain a gorgeous, unobstructed view of players hitting their irons into the green from a severe sidehill, downhill lie.
My colleague John Garrity cites the area behind the tee box at the downhill par-3 sixth as “Augusta National’s most thrilling spectator perch,” though some argue that the hillside below the tee box is even better. You can’t see the tee shot from there, but you can see them land. You can also pivot to the right and see the results at the par-3 16th green.
DON'T: Run. Ever. No running at any time, anywhere on the grounds. Just don’t. We warned you.
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DO: Strategize your trip – or trips! – to the merchandise tent. You know you’re going to purchase gifts and souvenirs from the main merchandise tent, located near Gate 6A. Even the players and broadcasters do some of their Christmas shopping at Augusta, though they usually access the much smaller, badge-only members pro shop. You have to buy your Masters gear here. They only sell it this week and they don’t do online merchandising. If you’re walking your purchases back to your car, go early in the week and late in the day, so that you don’t have to lug them around. However, in recent years, the Masters has added a shipping option—and it’s terrific, if you don’t mind waiting an extra few days for your logoed goods to arrive. If that’s the case, go early in the day, while others are out watching golf. The volume and selection of goods in the main merchandise tent is remarkable and the prices are reasonable. Still, they do occasionally sell out, so to be safe, get your shopping done by Thursday.
DON'T: Bring banned items. No backpacks, periscopes, tablets or beverage coolers. Binoculars are OK, though.
DO: Attempt to get autographs where and when appropriate. According to the Patrons Info section of the Masters website, www.masters.com, autograph seeking is only allowed around the practice range and on the Par-3 course during the Par-3 Contest. The best spots to seek autographs are next to the roped entrance and exit areas at the practice putting green and short-game area. The best time to ask are when players have completed their practice session.
DON'T: Bother golfers for autographs on the golf course. This goes for practice and tournament days.
DO: Come hungry. Masters Series Badges are considered one of sport’s Golden Tickets. The platinum upgrade would be a Clubhouse Badge. If you have Clubhouse credentials, you can savor two of golf’s greatest dining experiences: lunch in the members-only clubhouse and lunch on the lawn next to the huge live oak that abuts the clubhouse. The green-and-white jumbo umbrellas that shade the tables are as ubiquitous at the Masters as Magnolia Lane and the green jacket.
Having said that, if you don’t have access to the clubhouse or to Berckmans Place, you’ll dine like most of the other Masters patrons—and that’s not such a bad thing. The prices on menu items appeal to every demographic, in almost a reverse-chic way. The miniscule costs for beer, peanuts and sandwiches are one more reminder as to how cool the Masters is, with its emphasis on tradition, rather than pure profits.
DON'T: Forgot to grab a Pimento Cheese Sandwich. Of the nine sandwich choices, the standout is the legendary Pimento Cheese. True, purists have charged that a recent recipe change has devalued its greatness, yet for $1.50, its creamy goodness, peppered with chunks of pimento and served on the kind of white bread you enjoyed as an 8-year-old will leave you satisfied. The other must-have on the Masters menu is the Georgia Peach Ice Cream Sandwich, a newer staple. GOLF.com’s Coleman McDowell described it as “a Massive slab of peach ice cream smashed between two sugar cookies.” For two dollars, it’s all the dessert snack you could want.
DO: Pose for a photo in front of the clubhouse, alongside the famous flowerbed that holds the Augusta flag. A club-approved commercial photographer will take the shot, or else you can use your own camera Monday through Wednesday. Lines can get very long, especially in the afternoon, so go early. It’s worth it just to see the clubhouse and famous Magnolia Lane, the club’s main entrance.
DON'T: Bring a cellphone or smartphone to take your photos. While traditional cameras are permitted Monday through Wednesday, modern camera-phones are never permitted. Don’t even think of sneaking one in. Security will catch it, via bag-check or metal detector. If you forget you had it with you and bring it to the course accidentally, you can check it at a storage facility near the entrance. Just remember that lines are long at the end of the day when you go to retrieve it.
DO: Wear comfortable shoes. Golf shoes are permitted, though metal spikes are not. They’re not always fashionable, but I like to don tennis shoes. The terrain is really hilly, so it’s good to have support and traction. And pay special care when it rains. Augusta National’s grass is shaved down nearly everywhere, so when it’s wet and even a little muddy, it gets very slippery on the hills.
DON'T: Forget your chair. It’s best to bring a collapsible chair, without armrests, although Masters chairs are available for purchase in the Merchandise Tent for a surprisingly low price, $29. You can place your chair next to a green (do this as early in the day as you can) and wander away for hours. When you return, your chair will be there, just as you left it. Classic Masters civility.
DO: Check out the sprawling live oak between the first tee and the clubhouse. It’s a beehive of activity all week, and you’ll see anyone who’s anyone in the game of golf, from pros to caddies to administrators to broadcasters. Safe to say, the oak tree at the Masters is the epicenter of golf. It’s also adjacent to the first tee and to the practice putting green, which provides superior close-ups of the smoothest strokes in the game.