Some sporting events must be experienced in person to understand truly the essence of what it represents and every sports fan should have a list of events and venues they must visit in a lifetime. A Yankee/Red Sox game at Fenway Park in late September -- the Indianapolis 500 -- maybe even Wimbledon. But few sporting events can compare to the Masters. Words fall short of describing it. But I'm going to try.
The experience starts as soon as you walk up to the main entrance of Augusta National Golf Club. You are strictly prohibited from bringing cell phones, iPods and other potentially distracting items into the grounds. What a breath of fresh air, right? But seriously, you can't bring them in. You can't even attempt to smuggle them in. While other sporting venues have metal detectors at the gates, the security at Augusta National actually makes you go through them. If something sets one off, they scan your body with handheld wands. Trust me, they will find the metal. I didn't try to finagle my iPhone in. No way I was going to risk my publisher's family losing their badges, not to mention lose my phone. But they scanned me nonetheless until they were satisfied my belt buckle was the culprit.
Once inside you can almost feel the dizziness coming on from all the bustling activity. After a short walk past a gravel parking lot, you enter the Patron Corridor. Two rows of large green buildings line the pathway leading to the golf course. Concessions and restrooms adorn the left side while a huge golf shop sits on the right. Trees -- old oaks, provide plenty of shade as you walk toward the course. Once you emerge from the dense foliage and throngs of people bobbing and weaving toward their destinations, the mecca of golf opens up to you as if you've been teleported to a different world. Welcome to the planet Golf.
At first glance, the fairways look like green asphalt roadways. They're that smooth. It's almost impossible to tell where the fairways end and the walking areas begin. The grass is unbelievable. The ground is so smooth and the grass is so short and green, it's enough to make groundskeepers at other golf courses seriously consider a career change. Putting greens on most golf courses aren't as nice as the walking areas at Augusta.
The Masters has so many components that make it so unique -- so much tradition. The golf course itself is enough. It stands alone in all its magnificence. Its beauty lights up a high definition television but can't be done justice until seen up close. It's big enough to get lost in solitude and wondering from hole No. 15 to Amen Corner is a journey in itself.
Even when Mother Nature calls, the trip to the restroom is a model of efficiency. Staff members direct you to open urinals and a line 50 deep weaves through in less than three minutes. And that's after Tiger Woods tees off and everyone flees to the restroom at the same time. Try that at an NFL game during halftime.
Then there are the concessions. What do you think a beer and a cheeseburger costs at a game these days, $12, maybe $13? At Augusta National, a diet Coke, with a souvenir cup, one beer, one chicken sandwich, a sausage biscuit, a bag of M&Ms and a sleeve of Lance peanuts cost $10.25. And the food is great. Ask anyone who's eaten a pimento cheese sandwich. They'll tell you.
A retired couple from New Jersey stopped in Augusta for a day on their way to Florida. Four years after he submitted his name on the waiting list, he finally snagged badges to attend practice. Four years he waited. Four years he waited for a glance at Greg Norman, Sergio Garcia and of course the big three: Nicklaus, Player and Palmer.
The Super Bowl changes venues every year. The teams change too. With the ever increasing corporate dilution of the game, I really don't yearn to go.
The World Series can be a good show depending on what teams are playing. A Boston versus Chicago World Series for instance would be the best case scenario.
Perhaps the only event that compares to the Masters is Wimbledon. The All England Club, like Augusta National, is historic. Each event has strict rules on etiquette - caddies at the Masters wear white overalls while competitors wear white at Wimbledon. And both tournaments are the pinnacle of their respective sports.
Sports fans have their favorites. If you're from the northern part of the country or Canada, chances are you dig hockey - or can at least follow the game. If you're from Wisconsin, Pennsylvania or Ohio, you may be more into football. Outside of the U.S., it's soccer. But golf?
The Masters has a universal appeal. It's the one tournament every player wants to win. For spectators, it's the most coveted event as well. Badges are passed down through generations and the waiting list for even practice round badges are legendary. The azaleas on No. 13 mark the coming of spring and the Bermuda grass is the definition of green.
Unlike the three other major golf tournaments, the Masters is always played at Augusta, and that's what makes it so special. It's the first major of the year, and the anticipation of the golf season fills competitors and fans alike. It's the site of so much history -- so many triumphs -- so many shattered dreams and the birth place of legends. It's the skip shots over the water at No. 16 during practice rounds. It's the sand traps and adjacent creek at the base of all those azaleas on No. 13. It's the walking bridges named after legends such as Hogan, Sarazen and Nelson, or the par-3 contest with players hitting simultaneous tee shots and 3-year old children cleaning up tap-in putts on the greens. It's the slippery, undulating greens. It's Amen Corner. It's the one lame sports cliché's that fits like a glove. The Masters is truly a tradition like none other.