When I made my first visit to Augusta National as a teacher, in 1979, I got off to a bumpy start. As I was working with one of my players on the range, I was asked to leave because only caddies and players were permitted. I pleaded my case, and the next year, coaches were allowed on the range—with one caveat. If I was on the range, the caddie had to go. Eventually, I figured out that the club wanted patrons to be able to watch players practice with limited obstructions.
The following year, the same thing happened to me on the practice green. Again, I ardently pleaded my case—after all, nothing is more important than putting at Augusta—and a year later, I was allowed back.
As for the course? Forget it. I’m still not permitted to join my players out there.
The Masters really is different, and of all the unique aspects of the tournament, the isolation of the players and caddies is most striking. No coaches. No shrinks. No media. Yes, officials are out there, but unless they’re needed for a ruling, they’re hidden in plain sight. Compare that to the final pairing at the British Open. Watching on TV, you’re hard-pressed to pick out the players among the swarm of media, officials and assorted hangers-on. It looks like a Who concert.
That pristine look of the Masters is special. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to be out there walking with the final group, but not at the expense of ruining the patrons’ views. For a broadcaster, that restriction presents some challenges, such as getting yardages. When I’m covering a regular event for CBS, I’m right there with the players and can get exact yardages. At the Masters, I’m in a tower above the azaleas on the 13th green. To get the yardages for the second shots, I laser the player and then subtract the distance that I’m behind the green (roughly 40 feet). And I stay in the tower all day. I only leave after the final pairing goes through. Then I slip on my jacket and tie and prep for interviews behind the 18th green.
Augusta isn’t just special for the media and the patrons. It’s also special for the players, because it’s the only major they have to think about for seven months. The tee shots at Amen Corner haunt players for weeks and even months before the event. That doesn’t happen at the other majors because during the summer crunch the majors come along like pop-pop-pop.
It’s also a tournament where different styles of play can contend. You don’t need to be a bomber to win at Augusta because the par 5s are gettable, especially Nos. 2, 13 and 15. The other leveler for the short or medium hitter is putting. The greens at Augusta are so difficult that skilled putters have a big advantage.
The famous unpredictability of the Masters is the result of a course that is open to diverse styles of play. The club makes countless modifications to the course to improve the tournament, most of which are barely noticeable. It’s the difference between honoring tradition and being bound by it that allows the Masters to dazzle, amaze, and thrill year after year.