Augusta National gallery guards work long hours for no pay, but the perks are sweet

February 27, 2012

[This story was first published in April 2011.]

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Not a member at Augusta National? Lack the skills to become one of the best pro golfers in the world? Unwilling to quit your job to become a Tour caddie? If this is you, then you probably think you’ve got no shot at setting foot on the hallowed fairways at Augusta National.

Fear not: there is one other way that you — yes, you — can get inside the ropes at Augusta National:

Become a gallery guard.

More than 350 volunteers from around the country have descended on Augusta this week to do exactly that, and for seven days guards have an unobstructed view of the action. You’ll find them in various spots throughout the course — they’re the ones with the khaki pants and yellow hats. The job description is pretty straightforward: control crowds, usher folks across walking paths, answer questions and generally keep the peace.

But get this: Other than players and caddies, these volunteers are the only folks allowed to stroll on the rarefied grass inside the ropes. (Even a press pass won’t get you underneath those green rope lines. Trust me.)

The gallery guard job is not entirely glamorous. The gig is unpaid and the days are long — typically sunup to sundown, Monday to Sunday. Occasionally guards must step in and hustle people out of the way, and in extreme cases they might remove rule-breaking patrons from the course. But the gig also comes with a front-row seat to one of the greatest shows in golf.

“It’s worth it,” says Franklin Wilson, a Charlotte-based business consultant by day who is stationed at the 17th hole this week, his ninth Masters. “It’s a privilege. It’s not like anyone else is going to get in here. Plus, galleries are extremely courteous here.”

Guards receive their assignments on Monday morning, the first day of practice rounds, and they work the same hole throughout the week while rotating around the tee, fairway and green. Guards are often given the same hole year after year, although transfer requests are occasionally granted. Working alongside the same crew each Masters week creates some special bonds among the guards.

“You don’t see every shot of the tournament, but what I love about it is that you get nice friendships out of it,” says Steve Slaughter, a Chicago native stationed on the first hole. “You see the same people for one week out of the year, and you get to see some great golf.”

Guards traveling to Augusta must pay their own way, but besides the views and the yellow cap, there is one other perk: An opportunity to play the course. Each May, shortly before the course closes for the summer, the club throws an “Appreciation Day,” where volunteers are invited back and given a tee time.

“I call this my most expensive greens fee of the year,” laughs Ray Davis, a 53-year-old consultant who took a week off from work in Chapel Hill to man the 11th hole. Davis says he hasn’t missed an Appreciation Day in his 20 years as a Masters volunteer. Most guards say they make it back every spring for their tee time.

The volunteers have a variety of backgrounds and day jobs. The current roster includes teachers, doctors, judges, salesmen and attorneys. What they all have in common is a love of the course, a little luck, and, in some cases, a relationship with an existing guard, as working volunteers often recommend new hires. Another thing they share: a passion for the sport.

“You have to love golf to do this job,” says Paula Bragg, a North Augusta native who’s working her seventh Masters. “Patrons couldn’t be nicer. I mean, when they walk over a painted line and you ask them to move, they literally jump back.”

To become a Masters-week gallery guard, you — yes, you — can send a letter and resume to the Augusta National Golf Club (attention: Gallery Guard Committee), and get on their waiting list. Connections don’t hurt, of course, and even Davis admits, “I think the most prevalent way is through people who know people.” But many guards do get hired from the list. Others, like 65-year-old Judd West of Ogden, Utah, just showed up and got lucky.

“I wrote a letter to the committee every year for 10 years,” says West, who’s working on the 11th hole this week. “Finally in 2007 I had a ticket to a practice round, and I went over to the volunteer shed on Monday morning to see if they needed help. They were short a man, and I was in.”

And how’s this for job security: Once hired, guards are allowed to return each year as long as they’re healthy and able to do the job.

One of the sweetest gigs this week belongs to Jarrod Morton, 33, who is stationed with three other volunteers near the tee at the famed par-3 12th, right in the heart of Amen Corner.

“This place has a heartbeat,” Morton says. “You’ve got people coming from all over to watch the tournament from this spot, and to be a part of it is very special.”

Last year, the 2010 Masters, was Morton’s sixth year as a gallery guard, and his third at No. 12. Like most gallery guards, he’s an amiable guy and appreciates his opportunity. He has a day job in furniture sales at a large retailer in High Point, N.C. (After some prodding, Morton finally admits that he’s closed a sale or two over the years while kibitzing with patrons.) The bond he forms with fans who wander up to the rope line is one of his favorite things about the job.

“It’s great when people start to know your name, and you build relationships,” he says. “As a father myself, it’s really neat to see fathers and sons come out here together.”

Morton’s favorite memories are the gallery roars after the giant, hand-operated scoreboard near the 11th green is updated, and the electric atmosphere that follows Tiger Woods when he’s making a Sunday charge. As more Masters memories are created at Amen Corner this year, Morton will have a front-row seat.

“You try not to take it for granted,” he says. “I’m blessed to be out here.”