Date: April 06, 2016
Author: Martin Blake

FEATURE: The magic and mystique of Augusta

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So what's so great about Augusta and the Masters?

I'll tell you what, go and ask a friend or acquaintance who's been there. Then come and see me if a single one was disappointed. I'm yet to meet anyone who felt the slightest sense of letdown, other than the very occasional cynical journo. In my experience, visitors have high expectations and even they are blown away.

What's the magic? It is beautiful in its simplicity. For one, the course is incredibly beautiful, even better than it looks on television, where the rolling hills do not show up so well. As a masterpiece of the late, great Dr Alister Mackenzie it is one of the best handful of courses in the world, and it is not just about the signature holes.

For instance the par-four 10th, I reckon, has to be as good a par-four as there is in the world. The par-five 13th, swinging left along a tributary of Rae's Creek, would be my favorite golf hole on the planet. It's where Phil Mickelson threaded the needle from the pine needles down the right side in 2010, through between a couple of pine trees and on to the green. It's a breathtaking golf hole.

I mention the Mickelson shot from his win six years ago for a reason, and it's this. The Masters (please don't call it the 'US Masters', because that tournament does not exist) has been played in the same place since 1934 and that is its strength. Because virtually anyone who loves golf has come to know those holes, those swales, those vicious, breaking putts because they see it every year.

They know that if your second shot to the long par-five 15th does not carry up on to the green that it will probably run back into the water, and that your tee shot at the famous par-three 12th is too far right it will likely trickle back down the bank and into Rae's Creek with the turtles (though not if you are Fred Couples in 1992).

They get that feeling of deja vu if they see a player chipping from the right of the 11th green, at the start of Amen Corner, because they have seen Larry Mize hole out from 50 metres away so many times, breaking the heart of Greg Norman. On my first visit a few years ago, it was the first place I walked to, just to visualise that shot that made me sit bolt upright in my bed as I watched the playoff in 1987.

A few years ago I was lucky enough to play the course, drawn out of the media lottery to play on the Monday after the tournament finished. Of course, you sit on Hogan Bridge and you soak it all in, you toss a couple of balls down behind the par-three 16th green and see if you can chip it in like Tiger Woods did in 2005 (I never got within five metres), and you wander into the Magnolias down the right of the 10th fairway to see how in hell Bubba Watson hooked his wedge 30 metres out of there and up to the green to win in 2012.

So Augusta works because of the majesty of the course and because of the simple fact it is played there year-after-year, collecting folklore. Which, of course includes the Australian hoodoo that Adam Scott conquered in 2013, by itself one of the great moments in our sporting history.

It is brilliantly-organised by Augusta National Golf Club, from the practice days to the wonderful par-three competition on the Wednesday, to the final day with the roars of the crowd drifting across the course. Nothing is left to chance, the food and drink is cheap, there won't be a blade of grass out of place and if a pine tree falls down they just drop another one in overnight because that's how they roll at Augusta.

What do the critics say? They will tell you that it is a limited-field event (usually around 100, much fewer than other majors), that includes a lot of people who cannot win. This is true, since Augusta National Golf Club runs the tournament on a strictly-invitational basis, and asks back all the winners until they are no longer playing regularly on tour. But it is also part of the charm of Augusta that the old codgers can tee it up, even if they have little hope of reaching weekend play, because the tournament is at its heart a celebration of the game.

I don't buy much of the carping about Augusta. It's unique. It's about the best thing in sports. And every time they play it, I wish that I was there.

To the many people who ask me about it, I say the same thing every time. Don't think twice, just make sure you bloody well get there one day.