The Masters isn’t just a yearly tradition for the green jackets and those aspiring to win one. It’s an institution for some of the event’s biggest fans as well.
Vita Woodward’s husband, Fran, attended the Masters for decades before he brought Vita with him for the first time, in 1980. After Fran died in late 1997, Vita, now 88, began attending with his badges each year.
“I tell all my grandchildren that come with me—’These are Fran Woodward’s badges, and you will behave accordingly,'” says Vita.
The Georgetown, S.C., native always enters through the front gates and visits several holes before settling in at Amen Corner, her favorite spot. In the mid-’90s, after her husband’s eyesight had deteriorated, Vita would describe to him the ongoing proceedings. Most memorable: Tiger Woods’ historic first win.
“I remember telling Fran, ‘No, no, no, he can’t win it,'” Vita recalls. “He was so young, he wasn’t supposed to win it that early.”
Fran soon passed away, but Vita says it wasn’t his final Masters appearance. “A few years ago, I went by myself, walked to the back side of the course and sat down,” Vita says. “It was so quiet, and it was right there I felt Fran’s presence with me. I’ve never felt that anywhere else in the world.”
JAVIE AND KIM STAGGS
For Javie Staggs and his wife, Kim, Masters week begins on Wednesday morning at their home in Proctorville, Ohio. They hop in their RV and head south. Following a tradition that began in 1967 with Kim’s parents, their ultimate destination is a pop-up campground near Rae’s Creek, eight hours of I-77 and I-20 pavement away.
The Staggs make the trip alone but are never short on family upon arrival. Each year, about three-dozen other RVers trek to the same spot, settling in at the campground, a few blocks’ walk to Augusta National’s gates. You can always find the Staggs somewhere near the eighth green, where putts drop in the shadow of the first tee.
A full day’s spectating builds an appetite, so back to the campground they go, where a quasi-family barbecue has become an annual tradition. One family—as much foodies as fans—spends hours over a sizzling fire to feed the troops for tomorrow’s action.
“They cook enough food for the entire campground,” Javie says. “And it’s always topnotch.”
HAROLD THOMPSON AND EARL KIRKLAND
Things were different more than a half-century ago, when buddies Harold Thompson and Earl Kirkland drove down from Spartanburg, S.C., to attend their first Masters. In those early years, often as not they would sleep in a friend’s open guest room rather than a local hotel to save a few bucks. Many times Harold and Earl, now 80 and 84, respectively, would grab breakfast at an Augusta restaurant and see players having their own meal a few tables over.
Some things changed, and some didn’t. The friends annually reacquainted themselves with their favorite viewing spot at 16 and waited for their favorite player, Arnold Palmer. They fondly recall watching the King waltz to his fourth and final green jacket in 1964.
Today, Harold and Earl are on their 54th or 55th straight Masters—neither can remember exactly—showcasing a perseverance that the King himself would surely have appreciated. Their days as active soldiers in Arnie’s Army remain a cherished memory, one that sometimes seems too good to be true.
“Arnie had so much charisma,” Thompson says. “We were lucky just to get close to him.”