By BEN R. WILLIAMS
A couple of months ago, my girlfriend Lauren’s brother Jacob finally managed to snag two passes to The Masters Tournament after years of trying, and he asked me if I’d like to tag along with him on one of the days. I think I said yes before he had completely finished asking the question.
It may surprise regular readers to know I have an interest in golf. When I was a little kid, my dad did his level best to instill in me a love of the sport. His attempts were at least a partial success; while I enjoy watching golf, my skill at the game doesn’t extend much past Putt-Putt and Tiger Woods PGA Tour ’14 on the Xbox. Nonetheless, an opportunity to head to Augusta National Country Club and experience The Masters was something I couldn’t possibly pass up.
I’ll admit, I was a little nervous about the trip. If you’re not familiar, Augusta National is a unique place. They have strict rules, and if you don’t follow them, you’re banned for life, presumably along with your present and future descendants. No cell phones or cameras are allowed at The Masters. There’s no running. There’s no loud talking. If someone makes a bad shot, you don’t dare cheer.
You also can’t steal anything, even sand. Just ask Clayton Baker, a Texan who tried to steal a cup of sand from a sand trap back at the 2012 Masters. He was immediately surrounded by security, thrown to the ground, and arrested. The whole incident ended up costing him about $20,000 in legal fees plus a healthy dose of shame and embarrassment.
As someone who has always had a healthy distrust of authority, Augusta’s rules can seem a bit extreme. I was afraid that I might sneeze at the wrong time and end up inside a secret prison beneath the 18th hole, forced to survive off the club’s famous pimiento cheese sandwiches until Jacob could post my bond.
And in fact, upon entering Augusta National last Friday, I was called to a second security checkpoint where I had metal detector wands waved over me until it was determined I wasn’t a threat. I couldn’t blame security, though, since I was at the nation’s most prestigious golf course and I look the way I do; I’m more John Daly than Arnold Palmer.
There are only about 300 members of Augusta National at any given time, and it’s strictly invitation only. Similarly, getting the opportunity to buy a pass to The Masters is a matter of hard work and sheer chance. All of that is to say that many people never get a chance to witness the tournament except on TV, and getting the opportunity to set foot on the grounds of Augusta National is an honor.
And I am here to tell you, it lived up to all of the hype. Once you set foot in Augusta National, you are no longer in Augusta, Georgia; you are on Planet Golf, a wonderful place where the azaleas are in bloom, the grass is pristine, any stray litter is swept away within seconds, and everything is as well-planned and efficient as humanly possible. There is no traffic noise in Augusta National. Subterranean vacuums suck the excess moisture from the greens to ensure they play perfectly. No matter how many people are in line at the concessions stand, you can get a sandwich and a drink within five minutes. It’s as well-engineered as Disney World, but without all the noise and children.
Jacob and I got to see some amazing sights while at The Masters. We sat in the bleachers at the famous “Amen Corner” where you can get a great vantage point on the 11th, 12th, and 13th holes. We saw Hideki Matsuyama, winner of last year’s tournament. We saw Tiger Woods play, and while he played pretty poorly by Tiger Woods standards, he played excellently by the standards of a guy who nearly lost his leg in a car accident a year ago. And while we didn’t see any hole-in-ones, we did see Larry Mize, winner of the 1987 Masters, accidentally hit a dude with a golf ball. To paraphrase the late Mitch Hedberg, it was way more satisfying.
My favorite moment, however, came when we were standing along the 13th fairway. A distant scoreboard (operated by actual people instead of machinery) rolled over to reveal the next three golfers who would be playing the 13th. One of the names was Fred Couples.
A former World No. 1 golfer, Couples won the Masters back in 1992. He was one of the greatest golfers of the ‘80s and ‘90s, a figure that I was very familiar with from watching golf with my dad when I was a kid.
Watching Fred Couples play, I was able to understand the magic of The Masters. It was a beautiful, breezy spring day. The azaleas were in full bloom. Most importantly, there wasn’t a single cell phone in sight. There were no tablets, no noise-making electronic devices. It was just me and Jacob standing quietly and politely with a bunch of other quiet and polite folks watching Fred Couples fire a 100-yard shot from beneath a pine tree to land a ball within spitting distance of the green, and for a moment, you could almost pretend it was not the hideous year 2022, but the year 1992, a time when politics weren’t so polarized, Vladimir Putin was still an unknown KGB thug, and you could own your own home without having to sell your organs.
Of course, it helps that the beer is only five bucks a pint.