Masters 2020: Missing the Masters—Patrons, volunteers and locals lament what they're missing this week at Augusta National
AUGUSTA, Ga. — It is not uncommon to see a patron—his face filled with angst, his lips brushed with pimento—lower to one knee and pop the question at Amen Corner. The same sight is rare, though, at the 14th hole. It is not a bad hole; there is no such thing at Augusta National. But given its adjacency to some of the most famous holes in the world, the 14th is mainly known for what it is not, the lone hole on the course without sand. Which is why Jake Berry chose it as his proposal spot.
“Figured it was symbolic,” Berry says. “The 13th is my favorite, but since the 14th doesn’t have any traps, the hope was our marriage wouldn’t have any bunkers to contend with.”
Cissy Brantley hasn’t had trouble navigating bunkers in her 30 years attending the Masters as a volunteer, worker or patron. Not that she is without her topography battles. A Greg Norman fan, Brantley and her friend were a little too excited to get to the 11th hole during the Shark’s 1987 playoff battle against Larry Mize.
“My friend Katie and I were running from the 10th,” Brantley remembers. “It had rained for several days and the walkways were very slick. Katie slid and took a poor man down with her along with his two drinks.” The pair was covered in mud, then despair as Mize’s chip-in disposed of Norman.
Brantley stays away from the 11th and its downslopes now, instead choosing the safe confines of the 17th as her locale. “My family usually meets in the stands at the end of the day before we head home,” she says. “It’s relaxing, a perfect spot to end the day.”
Ask Palmer Ball a story about her 40-plus years at the tournament and what follows sounds like Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” a non-sequence sequence of Masters memories tumbling out. There are shots of Masters lore like Jack at 15 in ’86, Bubba’s gravity-defying approach from the pines in 2012, and Couples staying dry at the 12th in 1992. There’s also the time she and her family were at a restaurant when the whole joint sang “Happy Birthday” to a 21-year-old Seve Ballesteros, or when her grandparents rented the house to Sports Illustrated and discovered New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath slept on the couch. Nicklaus would attend her church Sunday mornings.
“All the boys would fight over the attendance sheet,” Ball says. “Wanting it for Jack’s autograph.”
These stories were in mind rolling into Augusta on Sunday night, a sneaky fun moment of the Masters experience. It is the quiet before the proverbial storm, the air cut with an energy of anticipation and joy.
But this year, it is just quiet.
There will be no scalpers at the corner of Berkmans and Washington. TBonz will not have a full house of customers icing down sore knees and filled hearts. Grown men wearing quarter-zips and unwavering smiles will not be milling around like Christmas morning. For the first time in tournament history, there will be no patrons at the Masters.
In the grand scheme of 2020, this is to be expected. Golf tournaments, including two majors, have been contested since June without galleries, and they were not short on drama. Conversely, in all due respect to those competitions, their DNA is not fused with their galleries. They are called “patrons” at Augusta National. The more apt description is “pilgrims.” This is not an event as it is a holiday, producing moments that have no expiration date.
“Some of the best conversations I’ve had with my dad are walking through those pine trees and getting to spend one-on-one time with him,” says Neil Allen, 38, of Cumming, Ga., who’s been attending for 20 years. “In today’s society with endless distractions, getting to walk on one of the greatest parcels of land and talk to my dad uninterrupted? Talking about moving for a first job. Struggles at that job. Girlfriends, ex-girlfriends. Moving again, meeting the girl that’s now my wife. Discussing becoming a parent. I’ll cherish that forever.”
“My favorite part about having the badges in the family is being able to take my friends who have never been,” Berry says. “I've probably taken two dozen friends over the years, and it’s always very special to be able to share the Augusta National experience.”
“There was an annual tailgate after Thursday's and Friday’s rounds in the main parking lot [now the driving range] for Arnie’s Army,” Ball says. “One year, Arnie actually attended his own tailgate. When someone in Arnie’s Army died, we had a ‘memorial service’ for her on the first fairway the following year.”
Not offense to the U.S. Open, but you don’t exactly see fans breaking out psalms at Oakmont.
Of course, symphony is part of the Masters experience. Yes, the roars, those Sunday roars that reverberate through the loblolly pines, are revered. They are also just an entry on the Masters soundtrack. There are the huzzahs at the 16th during practice rounds when players are implored to skip shots over water. The laughs that turn into cheers during the Par 3 Contest when a toddler 4-jacks from three feet. The crescendo of buzz when a tee shot soars at the 12th, followed by, and only by, a round of “Heyyyyyyy!” when a ball finds safety or “Ohhhhhhh” when it does not. There are claps filled with gratitude to Masters legends saying goodbye at the 18th and the choked-up voices during the Honorary Starters ceremony.
Kevin C. Cox
But yes, the roars. Oh baby, those roars. And not just the ones you expect. Arguably the biggest boom of thunder at last year's tournament came at the 18th regarding what happened at the 12th, the scoreboard reflecting that Tiger Woods was on the precipice of doing the unthinkable. The Masters might be the most aesthetically pleasing presentation in the sport, and yet it is perhaps best digested through your ears.
So to look out from the big oak behind the clubhouse Monday morning at an empty and silent vista … it’s more wrong than dying the green jacket pink.
Of course, that we’re even having a Masters is a miracle, and despite not being able to be here in person, its pilgrims are as invigorated as ever. Not just that its Masters week, but in the solace that they will be back.
“It’s a good moment to reflect,” Brantley says. “On the memories made, and the ones that are still to come.”
But for those feeling a twinge of melancholy, may your soul be soothed by the sweet tale of Palmer Ball.
“Since my husband and I got married in the early ’90s, each year when we walk through the gates for the first time, we kiss and say how lucky and grateful we are to be back at the Masters once again,” Ball says.
Makes sense. Golf tournaments come and go. But the Masters, like love, is forever.