AUGUSTA, Ga. — In the merchandise building at Augusta National you can make a $30 purchase that will completely change your Masters experience. It's a folding chair, like the ones you see parents sitting in at elementary school soccer games, but it's green and has a Masters logo across the back. It sounds alarmingly simple, but it unlocks a community within the world of Masters patrons. With that chair, you can join the group of patrons with a front-row seat to Amen Corner, or an aerial view of 6 and 16. Or the best spot by 18 green.
If you walk around, you'll see areas around the course that are reserved for chairs. There's a strong chair representation around 18 green, and Amen Corner (of course), and smaller clusters all over the course. It's my first time at Augusta, and I feel like everyone was let in on something that I was completely oblivious to. And even though I'm walking around Saturday morning and play has just barely begun, chairs are already out there. It'll be hours before the leaders get to the 16th green, where I'm standing and looking up at the rows and rows of chairs along the hillside. Climbing up the hill, there are 14 rows of chairs in place, then a break for a walkway, followed by 23 more rows.
Most of the chairs are empty, having been placed by patrons earlier in the morning, and then left until play starts to come through. The father-son duo of Matt and Jake Embleton have flown in from St. Louis and are setting up their chairs. It's their first time at the Masters, but they came armed with info on the chair move.
"Friends gave me some pointers, told us to get the chairs and come up here. It's a great spot, you're elevated," explains Embleton.
He's right, the view is ideal. From the hillside you have a perfect look at 16 green, six green, and 17 tee. The slope is steep enough that when you're sitting in the chair, your view is unobstructed. The people below you are low enough. It's a grandstand, made by the patrons, of folding chairs.
Virtually every chair is one of those green chairs with a Masters logo. A red folding chair pops out amongst them, a pair of vacant camo chairs sit front-row near 16 green. One of the green Masters chairs has the year 1998 on it; the $30 appears to be a sturdy investment. Business cards are slid in the backs of chairs so you know whose is whose, some chairs have last names scrawled across the back rest. That's all that's needed to keep your spot safe for the entire day, regardless of if you're there or not.
Maybe Manhattan has made me jaded—who are we kidding, of course Manhattan has made me jaded—but it's alarmingly civil in chair nation. Sure, there are a couple security guards present at the entrance of the roped off sections, but the chair sections are mostly self-governed. And in all my walking around and through clusters of chairs, I never saw anyone arguing about where to place their chairs, nobody taking someone else's spot. No one got annoyed when patrons appeared at 18 green Friday evening, having followed Tiger, appearing to see him putt, with a perfect view because they'd claimed their spot nearly 12 hours ago.
"No one messes with anything, we left our chairs yesterday for hours and nobody touched them. We're not going to be back in these until the last 10 groups or so come through," said Michael Hamp. He and three friends are in chairs lined up on the right side of 18 green.
They got through the gates around 8:30 and set their chairs up on the 18th around 9 a.m. All of the spots right behind the green were already taken, but they were able to get a spot over on the right side of the green
"We're second tier," they joke.
They've discovered another benefit of the chairs: They provide a meeting spot, in case someone gets lost. Like Chris Sturgess, a guy in the group, did.
"We lost him for four hours yesterday," said Hamp, having come to Augusta from Austin, Texas. It's pretty easy to do, without cell phones allowed on the grounds. You can't just text your buddies to figure out where they are.
"Yep, I came out of merchandise and couldn't find them, so I just went off on my own," Sturgess confirmed.
With the seats, the crew now has a built-in meeting place. If all else fails, they know their friends will eventually come back to the chairs, so no one will be lost forever. The folding chairs are a safety net for the Sturgess in each group.
More people are still coming up to 18 with their chairs. It's a bit late to be able to get a perfect view, there are concessions to be made. A duo contemplates their options: "We can see the pin but not the approach, or we go over there, and see the approach but probably not the pin."
The problems you have in the chair community are good problems.