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7 things they don’t tell you about playing Augusta National

A guest round reveals the club in a whole new light
April 19, 2024

This article first appeared in Low Net, a Golf Digest+ exclusive newsletter written for the average golfer, by an average golfer. Have a topic you want me to explore? Send me an email at Samuel.Weinman@wbd.com.

I played Augusta National the Monday after the Masters, one of the most memorable rounds of my life not to be confused with one of the best. You can listen to my guest spot on the Loop podcast to hear about the (few) highs and (many) lows, but there’s likely a limit to how much people want to hear about how I played. (Did I mention I didn’t have my own clubs? Or that I had the shanks two days earlier?)

It’s an April tradition for golf writers who have won the media lottery to want to expound on the experience and its deeper significance. Golf Digest has published a number of excellent accounts, and if I did my own, no more than half of it would be devoted to explaining why I didn’t bring my own clubs to Georgia (I didn’t want to jinx winning the lottery) and then stubbornly decided to forge ahead without them (I didn’t trust shipping them in time). For now, though, I figured I’ll focus on a few dynamics I encountered at Augusta National that I hadn’t anticipated.

1. The champions locker room doesn’t have showers

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There is no better place to change your shoes, or hang up an extra shirt, but if you win a green jacket, forget about luxuriating under a massive shower head at the end of a grueling 18. The champions locker room is small. Everyone shares a locker, there are only a couple of tables, and the bathroom is just toilets and sinks. This is not meant to sound like a complaint, although I did wonder how it would go over if I traipsed down the clubhouse stairs in just a towel in search of a place to freshen up. I apologize for the mental image.

2. It’s not nearly as stuffy as people think

There’s a line I first heard when writing a story about country club stuffiness last year: Some private clubs want its visitors to feel at home, others like to remind you you’re a guest. From the valets to the golf pros to the caddies, the staff at Augusta National gave off a vibe that was far more “What can I get for you?” than “Don’t go in there.” True story: When my round was over and the clubs were back in the car, I began to pull away from the clubhouse to head back down Magnolia Lane. Then I remembered I forgot something in the pro shop, so I pulled my Toyota rental car over on Founders Circle. I apologized as I ran back inside for 10 minutes, yet no one batted an eye. I suppose I could have really tested the staff’s patience by going with the aforementioned towel through the clubhouse. There’s always next time.

3. The greens are … slow?

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You read that right, although I should clarify. Downhill and even flat putts are decidedly not slow. But the slopes are severe enough that you really need to hit the ones going the other way. More than anything else that day, I struggled to reconcile the Augusta National greens I think of in my mind and the need to hammer the uphill 20-footer in front of me. What didn’t help is not having my own putter. Not sure I mentioned that.

4. One caddie per bag

I question whether this counts as a true surprise, but it’s worth noting even at other top clubs I’ve visited like Pine Valley and Shinnecock, caddies typically carry two bags at a time. At Augusta National, my caddie Vic was predictably excellent—patient, insightful and stuck with just me. Although the Monday after the Masters is a unique event that hosts media and tournament partners, it was similar to the typical guest experience at Augusta National in that players are assigned one caddie their entire visit, whether it’s the next morning or a second 18 the same day. I am pretty sure Vic was kidding when he said the course was wide open if we wanted to head back to the first tee for another 18. Of course I would have done it, but I would have downed a few Advil first. The place is one big ski slope.

5. Beverage carts AND ball retrievers

A part of me thought it was a mistake when I walked off the ninth green and spotted the same type of drink cart you’d find at any local muny. But there it was, parked on the hill on the way to the 10th tee, stocked with granola bars, beer and refurbished Pinnacles plucked out of Rae’s Creek for $10 a dozen. OK fine, I am making up the Pinnacles part. However, the caddies did carry ball retrievers, adding to the short list of things you wouldn’t expect to see at Augusta National (I should probably be on that list, too, come to think of it). I figured an Augusta National member losing a Pro V1 would be the equivalent of me flicking a piece of lint off my shirt, but when a member of our group rinsed his approach into 13, one of the caddies was fully equipped to fish it out. Did the Augusta National ball retriever sport an Augusta National logo? I forgot to check, but just in case, the club can have that idea for free.

Side Note No. 1: There were snapping turtles and catfish in Rae’s Creek as well, all impeccably well behaved as one would expect.

Side Note No. 2: The ball retrievers are clearly put to use. I didn’t see a single ball in the water outside of the ones our group had just deposited there.

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Side Note No. 3: There are supposedly hidden bathrooms off to the side of the 13th tee, but I didn’t notice since I was looking at the turtles.

6. It’s a very playable hard course

A few months back I was mocked by colleagues for including Augusta National on my list of the best courses for bad golfers, but having now played it —and poorly at 24-over 96—I stand by my original assessment. Whatever messes I made that day were my own doing, and very often came even after I was in a decent position off the tee. There are very few forced carries, the fairways are generous and from a members’ yardage of 6,365 yards, it wasn’t uncommon for me to have a wedge into a green after a good drive. One of the members of our group, a sports reporter named Julia Westerman from Columbia, S.C., was playing her first round of golf ever(!), but didn’t struggle nearly as much as you would expect. She could advance the ball off the tee and got a decent roll even if she didn’t always carry the ball far in the air. In some ways, I’d argue she fared better than I did, certainly relative to our respective golf experience.

Which brings up the last part.

7. You can’t post an Augusta National score for handicap purposes

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The club doesn’t have an official slope and rating, which means in the eyes of the World Handicap System, it basically doesn’t exist. Augusta National’s scorecard does have its own handicapping of holes, and it has the par-5 second as the No. 1 handicap hole and the par-3 16th as No. 18 (No. 12 is the 16 handicap), which is remarkable in that I generally made a mess of all the par 3s and did relatively OK on the par 5s. Then again, I recognize my experience was unique in that I didn’t have my own clubs. Just for the record.