Martin Blake has been to Augusta National three times, and played the course in 2012. Here are his 10 reasons why Augusta, and the Masters are so special…
1. The course
Awesome is the word that comes to mind. An amazing lay-out in the tradition of that genius, Dr Alister MacKenzie, creator of Royal Melbourne and so many others. Augusta (pronounced A-gusta) is way more undulating than you can see on TV, and needless to say, there is not a blade of grass out of place, nor a bare patch to be seen or a scrubby tree. They have mowers that work in synch, for goodness sakes! And the greens, so quick and so undulating. Augusta National finds the best player just about every time, which is the ultimate judgment of a golf course.
2. The return
Simple things are best, and I love the fact the tournament is played in exactly the same place every year. I've been watching the Masters since the 1980s and I can pick just about any spot on the course, and I reckon a lot of people who love golf are the same. In particular Amen Corner, the stretch from the 11th green through to the 13th is just part of the golfing lexicon. The first time I went there, I walked straight to the right hand side of the 11th and stood where Larry Mize chipped in from 50 metres to beat Greg Norman in 1987, not one of my most pleasant memories, but nevertheless worth doing to get a feel for that shot. It's all become so familiar.
3. The history
The Masters (not the 'US Masters', as some call it, erroneously) only began in the 1930s, a baby next to the Open Championship. But the club has worked on it. They have fountains and bridges named after champions of the game, they have the honorary starters, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player. They allow past winners to play for pretty much as long as they can. In less than a century they have put together a stack of history, and it only grows every year.
4. The tradition
You end up embracing all that quirky stuff, like the green jacket for the winner. What other game than golf could make a prize of a suit coat? At Augusta, it's part of the folklore. Even the champions' dinner, with the great photo that always comes from it, is kind of cool. And when Augusta cotton on to an idea, they stick with it.
5. The respect for golf
The Masters is like a shrine to golf and all that is good about it. Nobody would dare yell out 'get in the hole' like they do at other tournaments. The patrons tend to be golf nuts; many of them golfers themselves. They come to pay their homage to the game. And whatever you do, never get caught with a mobile phone!
6. The 13th hole
My favorite at Augusta National. Just impossibly beautiful and a test of golf as well, with its right-to-left curve from the tee box, the creek running along the left side and then meandering in front of the green to challenge those who want to go for the green in two. Not to mention the amazing green and that iconic look back toward the putting surface, the scene that makes a zillion photographs.
7. The golf
There is little or no penal golf at Augusta National, as you get at the US Open with their ridiculous ankle-deep rough. The fairways are wide in the Mackenzie mantra, and it is all about angles. Hit down the right side to take on the left pin and so on. The good ball-striker is rewarded by having his putts from below the hole. Get out of position and you end up putting, as Ernie Els put it, in your bathtub. And Augusta doesn't set up the golf course for the winner to par his way in. On the contrary, the back nine is made easier so that you get a whirlwind finish, like Nicklaus racing home in 30 on the back nine in 1986, or Charl Schwartzel's four consecutive birdies to win in 2011. To win, you need to go low.
8. The gravity
The Masters has come to mean so much to the players, especially the Americans and no less to the Australians because until Adam Scott jumped up in 2013, we had endured so much pain at the venue. Hence, players can self-immolate on the final day, and it happens often. The best of them get through this, but it happened to Rory McIlroy and even last year, to Jordan Spieth, who fluffed two iron shots into the water at the 12th. It's not pretty to see, but it's all part of the theatre, the fact that they want to win so badly.
10. It's different
The Masters is not the Open Championship, that's for sure. It's run by a private club of golf-lovers, and it's an invitational event with a small field that includes a bunch of old guys who have no chance of winning. Theoretically with a 90-man field (or around that) including a few ceremonial players it's almost twice as easy to win as the Open or the US Open for some of the top guys. There's a bit of debate about which is bigger or better. I think they are both treasures. There is absolutely no need to compare. This is one of the greatest weeks of the year.