The difference between fans and patrons

April 9, 2007

We are told, annually and often, that the people who come to Augusta are not your normal, rowdy, beery golf fans. Heck, they're not even fans. They are patrons. Or so we're told.

Don't believe it, folks. There are fans at the Masters. You just have to know how to spot 'em.

Tommy Culpepper wasn't hard to spot. He's an ursine, 47-year-old telecommunications executive from Columbus, Ga. I found him sitting cozily in his fold-up chair beside the third fairway Thursday afternoon. Culpepper flew in this morning on a private jet with seven of his buddies. If the most important guy in the group is the one who owns the plane, Tommy is the second-most important. "I'm in charge of the Bloody Mary's," he told me. "I made one gallon at my house last night. One of the other guys is the official taste tester. We met at the airport at eight o'clock this morning and started drinking right away."

This is the first difference between a patron and a fan: The patron drinks when he comes to the course. The fan starts drinking at the airport.

Here's another difference: If a group of guys are exchanging money — using dollar bills — then they're fans. That's what I spotted a gaggle of six guys doing behind the seventh green after the group of Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott and amateur Richie Ramsay had hit their approach shots. "We're betting closest to the pin," Rudy Mayne, 39, from Columbus, Ohio, explained. "Two of us had Mickelson, two had Scott and two had Ramsay. I was down four bucks at the beginning of the day, but now I'm up two."

The group wasn't staying for the rest of the afternoon, so they picked a golfer and pooled their money, with the pot going to whichever golfer had the lowest nine-hole score. "We're having a good time, but we're trying to keep it low-key," Rudy said. "We're used to the Memorial tournament back in Columbus. It's a lot louder there."

Some other differences between patrons and fans:

Patrons wear golf spikes. Fans wear shoes, or sandals, or shoes that have holes in them so their toes are sticking out.

Patrons tie their pullovers around their shoulders. Fans tie them around their waste.

Patrons sit in the shade. Fans soak up the sun.

Patrons may buy beers, but will only carry one cup at a time. Fans go double fisted and are far more likely to spring for the souvenir Masters cup, which costs an extra 50 cents. When I asked one fan about this when I saw a bunch of cups sticking out of his back pocket, he told me he had gotten them for his kids. To which his buddy replied, "How many kids you got? Seven?"

Fans and patrons both carry around Masters folding chairs, but the year on a fan's chair won't be older than 2006. The patron's chair is pre-21st century, and he has a small card with his name on it tucked into the plastic window.

A patron's baseball cap is almost always golf-related. The fan's cap usually has either his favorite baseball team or a corporate logo, which means he got it for free at some lame outing back home.

Patrons bring their wives. Fans leave their wives at home, so they can feel free to check out other people's wives.

Which is not to say that all fans are guys. I learned this after I came upon three lovely lasses beside the ninth fairway. When I asked them what they were doing, one of them turned to me and said, "We're looking at Adam Scott's a--." No patron would ever confess such a thing, though I presume they're looking too.

These ladies had left their husbands at home and began their day in a corporate hospitality tent, where they drank mimosas and Bloody Mary's and ate made-to-order omelettes. By 1:00, they had downed a half-dozen beers and counting. "But they're little baby cups, honest," said Cathleen Prevost from Jacksonville, Fla.

Cathleen's friend stopped looking at Scott's behind long enough to ask, "Hey, if we let you write about us, do we get to be invited to the after-party?"

Sounds to me like the party's already started.