Rather than write about the course itself which everyone knows so well, I will write about my experience.
I had been to ten Masters championships. I was there by the tv tower when Tiger rolled in his putt to complete the Tiger Slam. I was there for the first victory by a Canadian, Mike Weir. I was there when Phil Mickleson won his first major, edging out my friend, Ernie Els. I saw Tiger win four and Phil win three. I saw unexpected winners in Zach Johnson and Angel Cabrerra. One week I was there from Tuesday through Sunday and other times usually for two days of the practice rounds and the first two days of the tournament. I knew the golf course from walking it probably fifty times.
I knew a month in advance of the date that I would be a guest. I did not get overly excited but I also did not tell anyone. I drove the 13 hours in my car to Augusta having only told my family where I was going. (I had some other places I wanted to stop on the way back). I was very mindful of a good friend of mine who was invited to play there 30 years ago. He had an early tee time but the forecast was for rain, heavy at times. He was there at 7AM for breakfast, hit balls for twenty minutes when the rain started. It rained all day ultimately resulting in closing the course at 2PM. He did not get another opportunity. That is one reason I did not tell any friends.
I arrived a day early and we played at another local course although we had to stop due to heavy rain. I slept great.
I had not been nervous or overly excited the entire time, even as I drove down Magnolia Lane the following morning with another person.
We arrived around 9:30 AM, received a very friendly greeting, went to our rooms over the pro shop and where President Eisenhower used as the “White House” when on site. While some might prefer the cabins, the view from the picture window is superb and one can walk to the dining room without getting wet. It is also the closest lodging to the men’s locker room. We left our luggage and phones, and went to the driving range. After a half hour we went to the par 3 course without the member who was conducting business over the phone in his room.
The par 3 is fabulous. There are no long holes on it but it is as pretty as it shows on tv. I had one miraculous save of a par, one birdie, a double bogey, four par’s and three bogies as the greens are very quick. We joked and laughed a lot with the caddies.
We then went for lunch joined by the member. The food was delicious and the atmosphere was again very welcoming and relaxed.
Around 2PM we headed for putting green and then to the first tee. I was still very calm. One member of our group is a professional and he was allowed to play the Masters tees. He had never been to Augusta National before despite being on a NCAA team that made the final four during his four years in college, twice winning the championship. He went first way behind us….60 yards?
The member went next, straight down the middle although not nearly as far up the hill as the pro who had driven it into the top part of the right bunker, about 300 yards. The next person went and hit it to the left side of the trees on the left, but at the top of the hill.
I was next. I had not been nervous the entire time. My member had commented during lunch on how calm I was for my first visit there. I placed my ball atop my tee and bent down to put it in the ground. I took my stance, looked down the fairway, and suddenly I could not see the ball. It wasn’t as if it went dark, I simply could not see it. I am typically a fast player and I started to think to myself, “how long have I been standing here?” I blinked my eyes slowly. Then I blinked them faster. I still could not make out the ball. My next thoughts were, “my partners know I play fast, are they noticing how long I have been standing here?” But I was frozen as I could not see the ball.
Finally, I said to myself, “you have to swing.” My guess is that I was only standing there about twelve seconds but it felt like two minutes. I took my swing still not being able to see the ball. I heard a sound. Then the ground became clear, everything was clear, and I reached down and picked up my tee. I could see again. Someone said, “nice shot” but not with any enthusiasm.
I had no idea where the ball had gone. No one had said anything. We started walking together, caddies and players. The conversation shifted to how lucky we were with the weather. My caddie had said nothing about where my ball had ended. I had no clue. No one but me knew I had not been able to see the ball during my stance, swing, and contact.
The member arrived at his ball and hit. Then the other two players went off in the direction of their balls. I decided to ask the member about which side he preferred to come into the first hole for his third shot. I still had no idea where my ball was. I was hoping he would start walking in the direction of my ball but he stood still. I walked over to the left of the first fairway to watch the player hit as I wanted to see what the shot looked like with trees between him and the green. I still had no idea where my ball was. I turned back to the fairway. As it turned out, the member and his caddie were blocking my view. My ball had indeed made the crest of the hill, dead center.
Over the course of the two rounds one discovers the course is much like they see on tv. The fairways are wide. The trees are tall but they are spread apart so you do get a chance for recovery of some ground; rarely does one have to simply chip back to the fairway. There are few places to lose a ball: the five water holes and a few dense areas of plants and trees.
While we did not play the greens anywhere near the speed of the Masters, they were still quick, smooth, and the greens are very undulating. They are perfect and I struggle to think of any course that approaches their overall variety in shaping, size, smoothness, and undulations. There are humps, hollows, swales, tiers, false fronts, run-offs, and triple-breaks.
I double-bogeyed three holes both days. They were the same three holes. I doubled the par three sixth, both times hitting my ball too far left and having a 15-20 feet uphill blind shot. On round one with the pin on the left side I left the first chip just short of the green and got to do it again. Another six inches and I might have been within a foot. On round two, with the pin back right my ball caught the ridge and followed the slope all the way off the front of the green. From there I left my first putt short so it rolled halfway back. This green provided me with a putt that told me how much better the top pros are to me.
On ten on both days I was just over the trap on the right of the green. The pin was on the right and both days my caddie told me to chip and I tried to putt, leaving both putts still off the green. The tenth green is much more tilted than it appears on tv.
On eighteen on day one I hit my drive into the trees on the right and did not come close to escaping as I tried to be a hero. On day two I hit it into the trees on the right again and tried to play safe but still caught a branch. Nearly……. I must admit on day one I was thinking of how lucky I was to be at Augusta National finishing the round and already looking forward to the shower, drinks and dinner in the clubhouse. On day two I nearly had tears in my eyes as I knew my first trip was ending.
Having drinks on the upper deck of the clubhouse before dinner was interesting because you meet people from all over the world. Dinner was a blast. After touring the wine cellar and crow’s nest, I lingered to look at the articles and letters denoting the history of Augusta National. The wine cellar is one of the best in the world. We laughed throughout the dinner as did the members and their guests next to us.
My scores both days were in the mid-80’s. The pro shot 40-37 on day one and 34-33 on day two from the Masters tees. He eagled two with a hole-out, made a 60 feet putt on ten to save par, but under-clubbed on sixteen leading to a bad bogey. He actually missed a lot of putts. But as he said to me, he would expect to break par with no pressure.
The par 3’s are amazing. Every one of them is special. They are very different in length and the green surround. The only similarity of them is that you must hit the green and not near the edges.
The par 4’s are wonderfully varied in both length, uphill, downhill, blind shots, tree lines, wide open or tighter, as well as doglegs going both ways.
Much like one sees during the Masters, the par 5’s are the “easy” holes because three of them play downhill to wide fairways. The eighth fairway is also wide but it is uphill and can result in a third shot still being blind. With the exception of the eighth, I had a chance for birdie six times, converting none. The downhill slope before the fifteenth green was not a difficult shot for me. Perhaps I have that type of shot too often?
In terms of the most difficult holes, for me on the front nine they are four and five. The green on four is terrifying although a made a 15 feet putt that I had to putt nearly 20 feet and seemed to break four different ways before it fell in.
Three is the cleverest hole on the golf course and I was fortunate to chip in off the front for a birdie on round two after ignoring my caddie’s advice to putt, although he was likely correct.
On the back nine, the tenth and the twelfth were the most difficult for me. All of the other holes do offer a better chance of recovery from missing the green. On twelve I hit it into the back left bunker and then left. The right side of the green is not likely going to have a good ending.
Fourteen and seventeen have severely undulating and sloped greens although I found them easy to read. I did not make a putt but I did not three putt and considered that a victory.
The hill before the eighteenth is very steep. I have walked up it fifty times but playing it made it seem even steeper.
Some people criticize Augusta National for its changes such as adding length, trees, and even a short first cut. None of these changes have diminished the choices that one must make on the course. It remains a course of strategy due to the greens. This is a golf course that one starts at the green position and tries to work their way back to the tee to determine the side of the fairway they want to play to as well as where they want to land their ball on the green.
Technology has gone too far with the ball. I do not see the changes at Augusta National as trying to save the reputation of the golf course. I see the changes as trying to defend the reputation of golf. I see them also as a way for the average player to be able to relate in some form to the top professional.
I have met several members through the years. They have all been super nice and friendly. When I attended the Masters and saw a member walking the course, I made a point of walking up to at least two members a day and thanking them for sharing their course with the world. One has to remember that Augusta National closes every spring for an extended time for renovations and to avoid the summer heat. The members also forfeit their course for over a week to conduct the Masters and now the Women’s Amateur event. While one can easily say every member of Augusta National is likely a member of at least two other private clubs, they still have to give up their course. For me, that is a nice gift to the world, not to mention what the club gives to charity in support of the game of golf.
The facilities are stellar, the accommodations are very nice, the dining is marvelous, the wine is superb, the staff is very welcoming, having a beverage on the upper deck of the clubhouse as the sun sets is a memory forever as you meet people from all over the world, and the golf course is outstanding. In terms of golf experiences, it is unique, fun, and fills one with joy. As for the members, I thank them for what they have done for the game, sharing their course, and I am happy for them being members.
Date: April 30, 2020