I have been lucky enough to attend The Masters twice, and both times had a truly tremendous experience. I've been to Opens, Ryder Cups, the US Open and many national tournaments but, as you would probably imagine, Augusta National was something quite different. So, if you are lucky enough to be planning a trip, I have a few tips which may help you get the most out of it.
1. Consider staying in Augusta - it's cheaper than you think.
A lot of the tours from the UK will have you staying in places like or Columbia or Athens. These are up to a couple of hours outside of Augusta and, as such, your days will be very long and the time you have to spend on the course will be dependent on your organiser's transport schedules.
On my first visit, we rented a house 20 minutes walk from the first tee. The second time, we stayed in a motel nearby. It was a fantastic feeling to wake up knowing that we were a mere stroll from the Masters.
The Friday evening in 2014 was the most magical experience. Rory Mcilroy was one of the very last out and battling to make the cut. The course really emptied for the last hour or so and my friend and I walked around with just a handful of people - including Rory's Dad and tennis-playing girlfriend from the time. They were more than happy to chat to us as the sun set. Had we been scrabbling to get out of the car park or find our bus, we would have missed out.
Hotels can be expensive but check out Airbnb or the official rental service for some options.
2. You’ll always get a ticket on the day - but at a price
Getting tickets is sure to be one of your top challenges for the Masters. The powers that be are making it even harder for you to get your hands on them, driving the price up. This year you are only allowed 2 ‘re-entries’ per day which will suppress the second hand market more.
To give you an idea what you’re in for expect to pay around $2,000 - $2,500 a day if you are trying to get tickets at the last minute. Gulp. As I write this at the beginning of Masters Week, tickets for the final round on Sunday are changing hands at $2,300 - last year at the same time they were $1,500, and $1,200 in 2017. That’s quite some inflation.
There are two main ways you can get them. Firstly, Stubhub has tickets available. The prices change daily - normally rising as the event gets closer. However, if the weather looks like it may be bad (or the leaderboard is less than stellar) the price may fall. Although, that could go the other way if Tiger looks like he’s going to go head-to-head with Rory in the baking sun.
If you do go with Stubhub then you will pick the tickets up on the day from their rented accommodation. This will likely be a weekly pass though and you will have to pony up quite a large deposit in case you don’t return it.
The other option is to go for a scalper on the street. This may sound a little dodgy but you should be fine if you choose wisely. Firstly, you need to be further away than 2,700 feet from the venue. Doing otherwise risks arrest and incarceration! There’s a good article here which explains it all. It is not illegal to purchase a ticket this way, but it is against the club’s own terms and conditions.
I bought a ticket last time from Jimmy D (quoted in this article) who has set up outside of T-Bonz for over 20 years. He’s a very straight-up guy and probably a little cheaper than Stubhub, without the need to return the badges at the end of the day. Buyer beware and all that, but I would recommend him.
3. If you go on a practice day, don't forget your camera.
Cameras are forbidden on every day of the tournament - this is the only event that holds out against them. However, on a practice day you are allowed to snap away to your heart's content - the pictures sure make a nice screensaver!
4. Don't just stay in one place - walk the course.
One of the great things about the Masters is that the course is not busy. They don't say how many patrons/punters are on the course on any given day, but we never felt we couldn't see the action. Indeed, at times, it was slightly surreal just how close we could get to the action. Last year I saw every single shot that Garcia and Rose hit - until the 18th hole when I only missed their tee shots.
The other fantastic thing, which you don't really appreciate on the TV, is that only the players, caddies and a scorer are allowed inside the ropes - that means that you don't risk having a C list celebrity blocking your view.
There are stands/bleachers on several holes on the course and, again, these are really accessible. I have spent days at the Open, finding myself stuck behind a stand, hearing the cheers going up trying to work out what is going on. No such concern here. On the Sunday, with a couple of groups still to come through, we had no problem wandering down to the stand behind the 12th tee which overlooks the 11th green, before nipping over to the stand behind the 13th.
Also, there are fantastic vantage points to stand on all over the course. You have probably heard from some of the commentators that the course is more hilly than it looks on TV (!) and that really lends itself to finding a great spot to watch a few groups coming through.
5. Get the most from the green seats
This takes a bit of getting used to. Most patrons will have a green folding seat clutched in their hand as they enter the gates. If you don't have one, you can buy one inside. It's best to put an identifier on your seat (there is a little place at the back for a business card, how quaint!). Then, you simply go and put your seat down anywhere you want on the course (we did manage to get by the 18th green on Sunday but it was an early start...) and then you are free to either sit in it or just leave it until you want to use it. It will be there, unmoved, and waiting for you to claim it when you return.
When you get back to your seat you may well find someone else sitting in it. That's the done thing. You just politely let them know that's your seat and they will move on with a smile and find the next empty seat. This is very useful information because it obviously works both ways. When you are out on the course and you fancy a sit down, you are welcome to sit in any available green seat.
As I say, it does take a bit of getting used to, but when you get in the habit, it's great!
6. Keep you eyes open and chat to people
Without a doubt, Augusta has a very interesting bunch of spectators and you can have some great conversations. On the very first day we were there, before even going out to the course, we were getting some breakfast and struck up conversation with the couple next to us. I explained that it was my first time and the gentleman explained he had been coming for over 50 years and his father, Claude Harmon, had won the title back in 1948.
In more recent years, if you had been following Lee Westwood, the odds were that Ant, Dec and Alan Shearer would be nearby and more than happy to have a chat. Well Ant and Dec were, Shearer was a bit miserable. (I recognise this will mean more to my UK followers than those outside!).
If you are a golf dweeb then there are plenty of golf journalists to spot and most have been really happy to chat. Alan Shipnuck was particularly animated about his trip to the Scottish Links.
The members stand out because of their green jackets which they wear regardless of the temperature, and are more than happy to tell you some anecdotes about the course. No invitation was forthcoming to join them for a round which was weird.
7. Enjoy the food and hang on to your beer cup.
You will have read about how cheap the food is on the course. This is true, although when you are there for 5 days it does all become a little bit samey! We got through a few beers over the course of the week and collected a fair few of the hard plastics cups they were served in - I think I came home with a dozen. They are quite substantial cups and three years later are still pressed into daily service in my household. Nice and showy for summer barbecues too...
8. Check your shopping into the 'pick up' queue
The merchandise tent is everything you have heard it is and more. The selection of goods is phenomenal and the quality is excellent. It is impossible not to get the credit cards out and spend more than you had intended. However, do not make the mistake of then having to carry a plastic bag around for the whole day, you will grow to hate it. Instead, leave it at a shopping check-in and pick it up at the end of the day. The queues weren't too horrible.
9. Enjoy being out of contact for the day
There is really no way you can get a mobile phone into the ground. There is airport style security to navigate and even if you did manage to get past that then is no way you would survive a sly check of Twitter. There are cameras in the trees...
It is a strange, but slightly uncomfortable feeling being out of contact with the rest of the world for 12 hours. It is a very unusual position for most of us these days. In fact, the only other time I've managed it in the three years between Masters trips has been on a long haul flight. But it forces you to take stock, contemplate what is unfolding before your eyes and actually smell the roses. Or azaleas in this case.
One frustrating aspect of this policy is that there is no way to stay in touch with anything happening on the course but the group you are watching. There are lots of leaderboards which get updated to oohs and aahs from the crowd, but I think selling a radio with on course coverage, like at the Ryder Cup and The Open, would enhance the experience. It's interesting to see afterwards what was being said on social media compared with how it felt on the course at the time.
So, hard as it might be, try to enjoy the feeling of isolation from the rest of the world. It's a bit like playing a three club challenge - interesting to do from time to time, but probably not something you'd want to do every day.
10. Get to Palmetto
While your trip will probably be focussed primarliy on the Masters, I would encourage you to try to play some golf as well, if you can. We played 2 rounds - once at the slightly bizarre Sage Valley and once at Palmetto. Palmetto is an absolute delight. It's a course which Alister MacKenzie had a big hand in creating and there are definitely some hints of the genius that made Augusta here. It's a fun course which is only open to visitors to play during Masters' week every year.