AUGUSTA, Ga.— Earlier today, I sat on the bleachers overlooking Augusta National’s most iconic par three (and arguably, the most famous short hole in the world), the 12th. The second of a three-hole stretch dubbed Amen Corner.
In my one hand was a pimento cheese sandwich (that cost all of $1.50 – yes, for the price of a bottle of water at this year’s Superbowl, you can get a full meal at Augusta National), and in the other, drops of condensation slipped slowly down my cup of southern sweet tea. The cup, emblazoned with the “Masters 2016” logo, will act as a prized souvenir when I leave.
It was a moment.
And Augusta National is full of them for first-time visitors, from journalists to players alike.
“It was a feeling you couldn’t prepare for, and couldn’t have imagined,” says Canadian Corey Conners, who played the Masters in 2015 as an amateur. “It was just really cool to be out on the golf course, a thrill to be able to play. It’s tough to prepare yourself for how amazing a week it will be.”
Conners received his invite (seriously, Augusta National sends out actual invitations) after a great run at the 2014 U.S. Amateur Championship, the winner and runner-up of which are both invited to play at the Masters as long as they stay amateurs.
The 2015 U.S. Amateur winner, Bryson DeChambeau (who is a bit of a golfing mad scientist – all of his clubs are the same length, and they don’t have numbers, they have names) is playing in his first Masters along with 16 other first-timers.
“I would have never thought in a million years that I’d be here this early, at age 22,” DeChambeau says. “But it’s a special week.”
It’s highly likely he will turn professional after the conclusion of this tournament.
Jim Nantz, long the voice of CBS’s annual coverage and the man whose golden pipes welcome viewers every year with a soft but reassuring “Hello friends,” thinks DeChambeau isn’t just going to try to make the cut, he’s got a real chance at winning.
“This young man is obsessed with winning the Masters,” Nantz recently told Golf Digest. “It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see [him] contend.”
Nantz, who has been behind the microphone at Augusta since 1986, is planning to be a part of the coverage until he’s reached 50 Masters.
His first time, though, he was as nervous as anyone.
“I was just trying to figure out a way to be invited back and not do something stupid,” he explains with a laugh.
Last year’s champion, Jordan Spieth – who finished second in his first appearance at the Masters – says he didn’t really have any expectations when he first arrived in 2014.
“I was just trying to have a great experience,” he explains. “I was just trying to enjoy my time at what I consider my favourite course in the world. I’ve studied it since I was eight years old.”
Spieth’s green jacket now hangs in his locker in the champion’s locker room – a locker he shares with four-time champion Arnold Palmer.
The jacket (first awarded to a champion in 1937) and the locker room and the drive down Magnolia Lane (“it always seems a little longer than normal,” Mike Weir says) and the pimento cheese are all a part of Augusta’s many traditions.
Established in 1933, the course opened in January 1934, where a train trip was organized for 80 from New York City to Augusta. The Masters Tournament was suggested as the name of a special championship in 1934, too, but (perhaps ironically) Bobby Jones – one of the most famous golfers of all time, a founding member of Augusta National, and the president in perpetuity of the club – thought that name was too presumptuous. This, according to a book penned by co-founder Clifford Roberts called The Story of the Augusta National Golf Club.
Instead, the “Augusta National Invitation Tournament” was used for four years.
Today, Augusta manages to stay equally intimate and grandiose. A lot of the greens and tee boxes are essentially adjacent, and yet there is enough space for thousands of patrons (they don’t call them “fans” or “spectators” at Augusta). There is a CVS Pharmacy (an American chain) across the road in a non-descript strip mall.
Still, when you walk through the gates, you step back in time and through to a dream-like setting that doesn’t seem real.
But it is. And everyone remembers their first time.
Chip Shots: On Monday, it was announced that the male gold medal winner in golf from this summer’s Olympic Games will be awarded a spot in all of the 2017 major championships, including the Masters… The pairings were announced Tuesday morning. Some notables: Jordan Spieth/Paul Casey/Bryson Dechambeau (9:48 a.m.), Jason Day/Matt Kuchar/Ernie Els (1:06 p.m.), Rory McIlroy/Bill Haas/Martin Kaymer (2:01 p.m.), Mike Weir/Cameron Smith/Sammy Schmitz (11:16 a.m.)… Jordan Spieth is hosting the Champions Dinner tonight, with Texas BBQ on the menu…