The MastersMarch 11, 2010

Crossing One Off The Bucket List

First Impressions Of Augusta National And The Masters


No place makes a first impression like Augusta National. Golf Digest has a long history of inviting top writers, photographers and artists to share their experiences after joining us at the Masters. This month we bring you images from acclaimed photographer Larry Fink, a master observer of social interaction who first appeared in these pages with member-guest photos in the November 2005 issue. Fink's photographs from the 2009 Masters are paired with readers' memories of their first trip to Augusta National, in some cases going back half a century. Enjoy.*


The first time I attended the Masters was on a Saturday morning in 1973. The rain was as heavy as any I've ever seen. The only golf taking place was on the practice tee. There were Lee Trevino, Vinny Giles and Arnold Palmer. Trevino left because of the conditions, and Giles soon followed. At about that time a mustachioed gentleman in a big, floppy velour hat brushed by me. I immediately recognized him as LeRoy Neiman, the artist. I'll never forget the rain droplets falling from the end of Palmer's nose.

Some years later I experienced a rush of déjà vu in an art gallery in Atlanta. Across the room, I could not make out the details of a print on the wall, but I knew immediately that I had been there. The hair bristled on the back of my neck. As I neared the picture, I discovered that it was a LeRoy Neiman work titled "Arnie in the Rain."

The round in 1973 was postponed, and the tournament concluded on a Monday, won by Tommy Aaron. I was left with a heck of a story, which I tell anyone who asks about the print hanging in my den.

John Stewart, Charlotte


My dad attended his first Masters in 1962 with a few of his golf buds. They bought their tickets at a drugstore for only $5, and he said tickets were being sold pretty much everywhere. Taxis actually drove down Magnolia Lane and dropped you off just in front of the circular drive at the clubhouse. This was the first of my dad's 44 Masters, and he had every badge proudly displayed on an old Augusta National cap.

I was invited to attend my first of 25 Masters in 1973, when I was 13. Dad, Mom and I made the then-12-hour drive from Kentucky to Augusta.

Dad passed away a few years ago, and the last Masters I attended was in 2006.

But I know that every April, Dad is still going to Augusta. If you're in the sitting area behind No. 10 and you sense an unexplained breeze or a tingle on the back of your neck, or maybe the sun looks a bit brighter through the pines, don't worry. It's just Dad returning to the place he most loved.

Terry Clayton, Charlotte


My first Masters was 1991. I remember the respect the fans had for the pristine course. I saw a man put out a cigarette on the sole of his shoe, and because there were no trash cans near, he put the butt in his pocket.

John Schumacher, Toledo, Ohio


I've been lucky enough to attend four Masters, but my first trip, in 2005, was the most memorable -- almost for the wrong reasons. A fellow golfer -- a very good friend of mine -- knew a guy who was a Masters badge-holder for more than 20 years. The guy would sell the rights to badges for each day of the week. The day you bought was the only day you were going.

My brother and I purchased Thursday's round for that year. We flew from Milwaukee and stayed in Columbia, S.C. But Thursday morning it started to rain, and the starting time was pushed back to 1:30 p.m. Now anxiety turned to fear. I had been waiting my entire life for this, and I was afraid I was going to get rained out.  

The gates finally opened, and traffic moved toward the course. I reached into my rainpants and into my cargo shorts for the badges.

They weren't there.

I panicked and started to feel faint. I felt bad for my brother -- we had invested close to $500 already and had nothing to show for it. After what seemed like an eternity, I found the badges. They had slipped between my rainpants and my ankle. Only the elastic around the bottom of the pants kept them from sliding out.

My day on the course was much shorter than it should have been, but I had made it. I was a patron of the Masters.

Mark Johannsen, Milwaukee


I attended my first Masters in 2006 and was in search of two things: a weed on the course and a great pimento-cheese sandwich. I found the sandwich but never found a weed.

Jon Haight, San Antonio


Two buddies and I went to Augusta National for the first time in 2008 to catch a practice round, and we noticed tennis balls hanging from the canopy of the lawn mowers' cabins. We asked one of the mowers what purpose these served, and he said that if a fluid leak or engine problem occurred in front of them as they mowed in their goose-flight pattern, they were to remove the ball and throw it in front of the point man to stop the proceedings.

Brett Robison, Broken Arrow, Okla.


My best friend and I were lucky enough to obtain (at face value) two four-day tournament passes for the 2009 Masters. The most amazing part was dropping our chairs on the mostly deserted eighth tee Saturday before heading out to see other places on the course. When we returned to the eighth tee two hours later, we were able to shoulder our way through what was now an eight-deep crowd to our still-vacant front-row chairs. I could have tied Tiger's shoes when he put his foot up on the bench after his tee shot. 

Perry Ply, Ashburn, Va.


I was 8 in 1972 when Jack Nicklaus, my golf hero at the time, won his fourth green jacket. I'm fortunate to have two uncles who live in Augusta and have had Masters tickets since way before anyone outside of the city knew about it.

The family has grown over the years, so our "turns" have been fewer and farther between but are always special occasions.

Because I can no longer count on family for tickets every year, I apply for the practice-round tickets through the lottery and get lucky every couple of years, including 2009. With four tickets, I decided this was the year to share the Masters experience with my two sons, Ethan and Aaron, then 10 and 8.

We made our way around the course and settled in the grandstands at the 16th tee. It was crowded and difficult to get a seat, and the boys were wondering why we didn't just go to a different hole. We finally sat down as another foursome approached the tee. After the fourth golfer hit his tee shot, the crowd started the chant: skiiiiip...skip it, skiiiiip...skip it. The kids looked around at the crowd and back at the golfers. "Who is Skip?" They were amazed and delighted when the golfers dropped balls at the edge of the pond and skipped them across the water onto the green.

Later in the day, we pressed into a crowd, and I caught a glimpse of what I had expected: Tiger was putting, along with several other crowd favorites. Because the kids couldn't see anything from where we were, my wife encouraged Aaron to snake his way to the front so he might catch a glimpse. As Aaron started to move forward, he found himself guided through the maze by one great golf fan after another until he finally arrived at the edge of the green. His grin was wide as he took in every move and stroke that Tiger made.

The Masters has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Now I find myself spending hours with my sons watching the greatest golf tradition ever.

Jeff Wells, Greenville, S.C.


Last year was the first Masters I attended. God was the lead architect of the Par-3 Course. It left me speechless.

During the week I saw Tiger's mom, Tida, on No. 13 of the big course. She was behind all the fans, absorbing the course and the aura and buzz that her son creates. I spoke to her for a few minutes. Very gracious, looked me in the eye and gave me her undivided attention. Pretty cool!

Jorge A. Badel Manhattan Beach, Calif.


My first visit to Augusta National was in 1988. As I walked behind the clubhouse to the area near the 18th green and 10th tee, I had tears in my eyes. I had never seen anything so magnificent. The only thing I could relate the feeling to was standing at the altar, watching my wife-to-be walk down the aisle. Bill Davall, Hilton Head Island


One of the enduring memories of my childhood is my first trip to the old Briggs Stadium (later Tiger Stadium) in Detroit. We had grandstand seats, and it seemed we spent an hour climbing up the dimly lit runways of steel and concrete. Dark, dingy and claustrophobic.

Then, as you turn toward the field, a sliver of blue sky. And then the incredibly green grass of the outfield and the red dirt of the infield. That contrast and the gasp of surprise that it brought will never leave me.

In 1997, I attended the Tuesday practice round at Augusta, and that Briggs Stadium moment came flooding back. Certainly you could never describe the grounds of Augusta National as dark, dingy or claustrophobic, but the huge, overhanging trees around the golf-shop merchandise building give the same feel. And the transition from that to the sight of the whole golf course below you when you arrive at the end of the pavement elicits the same gasp that I recall from those many years ago. Two moments that I will savor.

Charles Kovaleski Winter Park, Fla.


As a resident of North Augusta, S.C., I have attended every round of the Masters since 1964. The only official action I have missed was the Monday playoff between Billy Casper and Gene Littler in 1970. (I had cut classes from the University of South Carolina on Thursday and Friday and had to get back to school.)

I have written evidence of my first visit. It was April 6, 1960. I checked the 1960 calendar and realized it was Wednesday -- the first Par-3 Contest. I was 10 years old and just beginning to become interested in golf. My father played, and my grandfather was an avid golfer. My grandfather was on the grounds when Gene Sarazen made the double eagle on 15 in 1935 but admitted that he didn't see it and stated that probably only a handful of people did.

While on the course, I decided to get some autographs. The only paper I could muster up was for my fifth-grade spelling words. Everyone who signed -- Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Dow Finsterwald, Jack Burke, Lionel Hebert, Jerry Barber and Doug Ford -- was or became a major champion.

In 2010 it will be 50 years since I made an "A" on my spelling test and made my first of many trips to a magnificent place.

Lark Jones, North Augusta, S.C.


Had the pleasure of seeing Augusta in 1997. It was my first time with a video camera, and the first footage I took was straight down to get a good shot of the turf. Being unfamiliar with video cameras -- and how to turn them off -- after hooking it to my belt, the next 20 minutes of the tape were also of the turf.

Charlie Dahl, Two Harbors, Minn.


The year was 2006, and I was able to secure two badges for Friday. I had always dreamed of going to the Masters with my dad, and now I had the chance. Nearing the end of our day, I simply didn't want it to end. To prolong our adventure, I suggested that we start on the first hole and make our way around the first nine holes again. My dad agreed, and off we went. As we approached the green on the first hole, I began to notice that we were virtually alone. It was at this time in our day that I truly got to experience the majesty that is Augusta National. Jeremy Burchfiel, St. Augustine, Fla.