I’m going to begin by acknowledging my previous attendance at three US Opens and one PGA Championship. This doesn’t make me Dan Jenkins by any stretch, but it does give me a sense of the ambience of the trilogy of practice days that lead up to the first crack off the tee from Mr. Palmer and Mr. Nicklaus on Thursday. Those championships, along with the British Open, are “one and done.” The membership and volunteers have built to this week for years and are aware that, come Sunday evening, their guardianship of the event will close and it will depart for another venue the following year. Not so with The Masters. They are professional tournament hosts and have done it since 1934; they know what they’re doing. I once spoke with a member of the working press on the task required to secure press passes for The Masters. He opened with “ten-page application” and then began rescue breathing as I gasped for air. No easy ticket, that Masters.

Since I’m not a legacy, since I don’t have the $$$ to bid online for tix and since I probably won’t ever win a lottery, my chances of attending even a practice round at Augusta are zero. Yours, I imagine, are much better. So I’m going to take a spin around Augusta right now…please come along and we’ll spend Wednesday @ The Masters together.

We go through the gates…we don’t get to drive down Magnolia lane, as that is reserved for contestants and important club members. No worries, as we’ll walk up and down it later. Since I’m not certain where the gate is, we head directly for the gift shop, to determine A) if there is some trinket that we absolutely cannot live without, like soap, and; B) if that item is going to sell out anytime soon. You may laugh, but when I arrived at 5:30 a.m. at the 2009 Walker Cup at Merion, all the commemorative flags were gone, having been purchased by the teams and their guests. I snapped up two flag/baskets (Merion doesn’t have flags atop its sticks, an homage to the first golfing shepherds and their baskets) and they were gone later that first day.

After the gift shop, we head for the clubhouse. We can’t go inside, but we look up at the highest point, the Crow’s Nest, where amateur contestants can stay for the week. I was fortunate in college to hang with Billy Andrade, a multiple winner on tour who now seeks a broadcasting career. He told me of the year when he came down from the Nest and turned left…into the champions’ locker room. Gene Sarazen chewed him out and Billy turned right the rest of the week! Tough old guy, that Sarazen.

We then move around to the back of the clubhouse, where the sweeping veranda and large oak tree occupy the high ground above the 1st and 10th tees and the 9th and 18th greens. We simply breathe, for we have to save our strength.

And then, we move to the course. Augusta National, you’ve probably read, heard or seen, is beyond hilly. The drop from the clubhouse to the low point, out near Amen Corner, is immense and eventually, what goes down has to come back up. Add the humidity of a Georgia spring and we’re working overtime to keep up with the other patrons.

You and I both know that our first glimpses of Golden Bell, Dogwood and the other 16 named holes will be breathtaking. We’ll smile, maybe even tear up (blame allergies, guys) and remark how much different and better it looks in person. We’ll follow certain players, overhear particularly-interesting conversations, pick out a few celebrities who have dressed golf-down for the week and wish we could be around for the opening tee balls on Thursday.

Monday practice rounds are fun, low-key and interactive between patrons and contestants. Tuesday, a little less. By Wednesday, the contestants are all business and we must know our place. The Pinkerton security force and the green-coated members will see to that.

And so, as we depart Augusta National’s gates, headed for Waffle House or some other bastion of southern cuisine, we smile, bump fists and begin to recollect and embellish our Wednesday @ The Masters.
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