Date: April 07, 2015
Author: Martin Blake

The mystery, and the allure, of the Masters

Martin Blake points out some quirks and traditions of Augusta National, and the Masters …

1. It's Uh-gusta, not Aw-gusta, as many foreigners call it. A Georgia city that borders North Carolina, Augusta is home to 200,000 people, many of whom make a hasty exit from their homes during Masters week so that they can reap the benefits of the exorbitant rents that can be charged to the tens of thousands of visitors who hit town. The city did spawn the soul legend James Brown, but outside of the iconic golf course, it is not necessarily picture-postcard. The place throbs with golf nuts in Masters week, especially around Washington Road, adjoining the course, with its waffle houses and steak restaurants and bars.

2. It's the Masters tournament, or just the Masters, pure and simple, not the US Masters, asAustralians and Americans tend to call it to distinguish it from the various other Masters tournaments that have bobbed up thinking it was a fine idea. There is no such tournament as the US Masters, just as the British Open, as we tend to call it, does not exist. That's the Open Championship. The Masters was originally called the Augusta Invitational Tournament, because one of the co-founders, the late, great Bobby Jones, thought the 'Masters' moniker pretentious. But he relented, eventually.

3. The Masters is a celebration of golf, fundamentally. Most of the people who go to Augusta in April are golfers themselves, and they lap it up when the likes of Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player strut their stuff at the Wednesday par-three competition, played on the second course at Augusta National. That par-three course, incidentally, is every bit as beautiful as the main course, although there is a curse associated with the competition, since no par-three event winner has gone on to win the tournament in the same year. From the Wednesday competition to the tradition of the honorary starters — recently Nicklaus, Player and Arnold Palmer have each hit a ball down the first at 8am Thursday to begin the week — it is about paying homage to the Gods of the game. There is a Ben Hogan bridge (at the 12th) and a Gene Sarazen bridge (at the 13th, both over Rae's Creek), and drinking fountains in honour of Nicklaus and Woods, for instance. There is never any shortage of worshippers.

4. The Masters is unlike other majors in that it is invitational, with the invitations at the discretion of Augusta National Golf Club. The top 50 on the world rankings are given a start, then assorted others until they reach a field of 90 to 100, much smaller than the fields for week-to-week tournaments on tour. The tournament is run by Augusta, not by any tour, although winnings count for the money list on the United States and European Tours. Past winners are given a so-called lifetime invitation to play, but in reality their right to play will be removed when they cease to be touring players. Gary Player, for instance, played every year until he was 73, finishing in 2009. The club has in the past allowed former winners to play a few holes, then withdraw, if they choose to. Among the ageing former winners playing this year are Larry Mize, Ian Woosnam, Sandy Lyle and Tom Watson.

5. The course is hillier than it looks on television and has quite a few ampitheatres, such as at Amen Corner around the 11th green and the 12th tee, and at the par-three sixth, where the players hit over your head. A lot of people congregate around the 16th green, where the tilted green beside the pond produces famous moments, such as Tiger Woods' incredible chip-in during the final round in 2005. During the practice rounds, players traditionally take out flat-face irons and skip their golf balls across the pond toward the green; Vijay Singh is among those who holed out with one of these shots a few years ago. There is no rough at Augusta; its is referred to as first-cut, second cut and so on. The worst lie you will get is in the pine straw, but that did not stop Bubba Watson from hitting his famous hooked-wedge to the 10th green to win in 2012. But the course is long at 7435 yards (6798 metres), especially since the so-called ''Tiger-proofing'' done after his 12-shot win in 1997, with tees pushed back prior to the 2002 and 2006 tournaments.

6. You will be subjected to the famous southern hospitality at Augusta but there are strong rules. They don't like you to run on the course (too dangerous), or sleep. The Masters is the only tournament in the world where they actually enforce a ban on mobile phones, and they do throw people out for using them. Cameras are banned during the tournament days, but allowed on practise days. Many people travel long distances and pay big money to attend on the three practice days, where they will allow around 50,000 people into the course. On tournament days, the attendance is capped around 30,000 for the comfort of patrons. Yes, they are patrons, not spectators or crowd. That's another tradition of Augusta. Many of them have badges that they can take up every year; a lot go to the same vantage point every single Masters. Accredited media need to be careful about what they say about Augusta; when CBS' Gary McCord said on air in 1994 that the 17th green was so fast it was "bikini-waxed'', he was banished.

7. All caddies are provided with the iconic white overalls and green cap as part of tradition. This is the original caddies' uniform at Augusta National from its inception, when the co-founder, Clifford Roberts, used to insist that players use the local caddies from the course. The caddies who work at ANGC wear that uniform all year, and the idea of the uniform is to distinguish the bagmen from the players. Only players and caddies are allowed inside the ropes, another point of difference with other tournaments.

8. The green jacket worn by Augusta National members dates to 1937, and has become almost the most treasured prize in sports. The jackets were introduced to distinguish club members on the course, where patrons were encouraged to seek out a green jacket if they had any questions or problems. In 1949, the club decided to hand a jacket to the winner, in this case Sam Snead, and also gave out jackets retrospectively right back to the inaugural 1934 winner, Horton Smith. The jackets are made by the Hamilton Tayloring Company in Cincinatti. If you win one, you get a year to take it around and show it off to friends and family. From then on, you leave it at the club and can only wear it at ANGC. The jackets are worth a fortune on the memorabilia market, since they are so rare. An auction company sold Smith's 1934 version of around $700,000 several years ago.

9. Tickets, known as badges, can be bought for a day of the tournament from designated agencies from around $1500-3000, and can be found online, but they are scarce. Many people have rights to a badge that they take up each year. Scalpers are arrested within the confines of the golf course precinct, but they exist. And it is buyer-beware on that front; there are plenty of fake badges around for the gullable. While it's expensive to go, Augusta keeps its food and drink prices down. You can generally get a cheese sandwich for $3, a beer for $3 and a coffee for $1.50. Much of Augusta's money is made from merchandise sales, for the only place you can buy gear with the iconic logo is at the course in tournament week.

10. Australia had a longtime hoodoo at the Masters personified by Greg Norman, who finished second three times and could not retain a six-shot lead in 1996. It all started when Jim Ferrier capitulated in the final round in 1950, and it became known as the last bastion of sport in this country until Adam Scott's victory in a playoff in 2013. It is the reason why Scott roared "COME ON, AUSSIE!'' when he holed his putt on the 18th green that year.

11. There are two locker rooms at the club. The compact champions locker room is for past winners, complete with the name on the locker; the other locker room is for everyone else. Masters champions are invited to a dinner in the week of the tournament each year, where the reigning champion chooses the fare. However it is a myth that all the champions have to eat that particular dish; the players can choose a meal from the regular menu if they are so inclined. Sandy Lyle, the Scot, chose haggis but Jack Nicklaus famously said: "I hope he enjoys it.'' Adam Scott chose Moreton Bay bugs in 2014.

12. Augusta National is closed for big chunks of the year but there thought to be about 300 members, some of them Wall Street billionaires and high profile people like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.  The chairman is Billy Payne, who chaired the organising committee for the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. You don't apply to join Augusta; you are asked if you would like to do so.