Augusta National's practice area is the greatest in golf. It's maintained by an expert grounds crew and by the fact no one seems to know what the rules are.
There are no agents, no equipment reps, no trainers, no writers, no TV people, nor any other specie of pilot fish normally found clustered on ranges at other tournaments, usually texting or otherwise wasting their privilege with mindless pitter patter. OK, sometimes there's an agent or a teacher, but mostly it's just players and caddies at the Masters. With this unobstructed view a spectator can absorb more silky swings in five minutes than in a week on the course. There's a roomy standing area set on an incline, and in front bleachers set in brick manned by a friendly usher.
"Everything's a little different here, and that's by design," Robert Streb, one perceptive Masters rookie, says about the range. "It must be a really good experience for the fans."
But the specifics of that design aren't entirely clear, at least among the people who stand under the big oak by the clubhouse and generally know what they're talking about. "The soft rule is that a player can bring one person out to the range other than his caddie," one player says. Except if you're Tiger Woods and you want to bring both of your kids. Or if you show up with your agent and then your teacher happens to slide down from another student he's been visiting.
You may only bring one date, but your dance card can have multiple slots, or so it seems. Since the players have cellphones but the teachers may not, choreographing these little moments is a fraught endeavor.
"I'm here to work, so please, just let me have my phone, that's all I ask," says the coach of a multiple major champion.
"It's the one week each year when teachers truly have to teach because they can't have video cameras or launch monitors or any of that stuff," one inveterate Masters attendee tells me. "They can take pictures, but that's it."
"That's not true," says the same coach as earlier, though with a touch of uncertainty or guilt. "I was out there filming some swings yesterday.""A player definitely can't bring a launch monitor, that I'm sure of," says a sales rep for a major equipment company.
But wasn't Graeme McDowell using a Trackman Tuesday afternoon? "That must've been Augusta National's Trackman. I think they now have one on the range and their own technician to run it. You're allowed to use theirs, but not bring your own."
"There's no comparison. It's far and away the best I've ever seen," says J.B. Holmes, winner of last week's Shell Houston Open. "The fairway on the right is a replica of the first hole so you can practice your opening tee shot. And the wedge green behaves exactly like the greens on the course so you can see how the ball is spinning and reacting, which is all we really want."
And the patrons can see these shots, too, which is all they really want. When there are no rules, the only rule is don't do anything that will detract from it being the greatest in the world.