There are approximately 380 gallery guards volunteering this week at the Masters. That high number is important, because it's the only reason one of them agreed to talk to me. Those working inside the ropes at Augusta National aren't permitted to speak to the press. And not surprisingly, that's not the only guideline they have to follow.
"They've got more rules than Carter's got liver pills," my brave new friend said.
Considering I had to look that saying up, it's probably a giveaway to this man's age. But not really. The gallery guards (usually referred to as marshals, but the Masters is special) are an older group for the most part, coming from all over the country to work at the Masters, and staying in touch throughout the year with an email chain (That doesn't sound so old, now does it?). So if the rules are so rigid, why do they do it?
For one, they get into Augusta National for the year's first major. No. 2, they get on to Augusta National.
That's right, put in a week's worth of watching the crowds, while watching golf, and your reward is a round on arguably the world's most famous course -- usually about a month after the Masters.
"It's well worth it," said our anonymous gallery guard. To which I said, "Duh."
But yes, there are rules to follow to secure that coveted tee time. A bunch of rules, most of which revolve around staying out of the way of the action this week.
"Everything's done for TV," said our mysterious man in green.
That includes all the guards staying on one side of each hole before play starts (they're expected to be in position by 6:30 a.m. each morning) to keep the golf course "as pristine as possible for as long as possible." And the camera runners who work for CBS bolting to get behind players for their approach shots before quickly retreating to the trees. And it means the guards removing their bright yellow hats when they go watch golf elsewhere after their shifts are over. Of course, they'd be harder to spot if they weren't given those bright yellow hats, but at least those are less conspicuous than the hard hats they used to be required to wear.
To get the job, "you need to know someone," and once you get it, you usually keep it. Guards are then assigned one hole for the week, although their position on it (tee, crosswalk, green, etc.) varies based on a rotating schedule that's printed out and looks more detailed than the President of the United States' daily itinerary.
And if you stay on the same hole long enough, you'll see some crazy/funny things. Like the time when a metal stake being tapped back into the ground broke into a water main, which caused a geyser to shoot up some 30 feet in the air. "Within minutes, you couldn't tell it had happened because they fixed it so fast." Or the time Fuzzy Zoeller and John Daly snatched a gallery guard's hard hat off his head, signed autographs on it, and handed it to a kid in the crowd.
It's extremely rare that gallery guards have to recommend the removal of a rowdy patron, but from time to time, guards themselves lose their badge -- sometimes right on the spot. What's an offense that would warrant such an abrupt dismissal? Sleeping on the job. Literally.
More common, gallery guards don't get asked back if they scalp the two Monday-through-Wednesday tickets they're allowed to purchase each year. And after 25 years of doing the job, they are almost always pushed into retirement, although that doesn't mean they don't come back. At that point, they're offered the chance to buy two weekly tournament badges for the rest of their lives.
And guess what? They usually do. Augusta National may have a lot of rules, but there are plenty of people who are willing to play by them.