Written and illustrated by Lee Heffernan
My father, Henry, was one of the few members of Augusta National Golf Club who had a key to the gate. I have fond memories of learning how to fish the Eisenhower Pond during the summer months when the club was closed, playing the course on many occasions, Thanksgiving dinners with other members and their families in the Trophy Room, and enjoying the drive down Magnolia Lane. It all made for a very memorable childhood.
Having grown up in Augusta, and attended every Masters since birth, I learned at an early age the best routine for watching the tournament as a spectator and vantage points to see the action during the day. I offer this guide to those headed over this April for what is considered golf’s greatest tournament.
It’s All About the Shoes!
The question I got most often from both men and women is “What do I wear?” The most important item is your shoes. If you have golf shoes that are comfortable, wear those, but do not choose the tournament as an occasion to break in those new Foot Joys! Golf shoes provide the most traction on slopes and in pine straw, especially if rain is in store. If you don’t have golf shoes, wear comfortable walking or running shoes. The course is much hillier than it appears on camera, so prepare accordingly. Women should NOT wear sandals, heels, or anything else for “looks” vs. utility. I have witnessed many “wipe-outs” as women in delicate sandals slide down a hill or require bandages for blistered heels – not worth it!
For clothing, I often advise guests to dress as if they’ve been invited to play the course. Golf attire is best. For men, pants or nice shorts and a golf shirt are good; for women, you’ll see everything from bright sundresses to colorful pants. Again, go for comfort after you check the weather forecast and wear appropriate shoes for walking. Don’t forget to pack your binoculars, sunscreen, ChapStick, and any head cover. If rain is in the forecast, I prefer a foldable rain slicker with hood; it’s lightweight and less cumbersome than an umbrella.
Tickets in Hand or ‘Taking a Chance’
If you have a ticket (or series badge if being completely accurate), your best bet is to drive over early to arrive in Augusta around 7:30 a.m. There is an abundance of free parking and the club provides guests with directional signs everywhere indicating “golf traffic” and “parking.” Gates open at 8 a.m. Once through the gate, make sure you get a pairing sheet from the green wooden stands near the clubhouse and concession areas. This will serve as your guide to find the players, their tee times, who they are paired with and where they are on the course (involves a little back-tracking math) and also has a handy map on the back. There are a few ways to experience the tournament:
If you enjoy walking and want to truly experience the course as the players do, I like to start on No. 1 and walk the full 18 holes to start the day. I usually find a player I like to watch and start on number one and go from there. After completing 18 holes, you may want to head to nine green, ten green or Amen Corner to watch golfers come through.
“Half & Half”
If you like to walk but would prefer not to invest in the full 18 holes, I would suggest the following: start on No. 1 tee to see a few golfers start their round. Walk down No. 2 fairway and cross over to the No. 4 green (a tough par 3). Then head over to No. 6. This enables you to see golf on the par-3 No. 6 green as well as the No. 16 green, a great viewing area. This area is “amenity rich” with concessions and restrooms close by. From here, you can backtrack to the No. 13 green and Amen Corner, another great viewing area. You can now either walk up next to No. 10 or up next to No. 18. My favorite spot is to watch the No. 9 green – a difficult approach and sloping green keep it interesting.
If your idea of fun is to set up camp and see the players roll through, ensuring you’ll have a good seat to see things, you can stake your ground by putting a folding chair (mark with your name on the back!) on the No. 18 green. Or you could enjoy the action at Amen Corner by putting your chair at the 12th tee area. You can also enjoy the bleachers behind the 12th tee, where you can see the 11th green, the par-3 12th and much of the par-5 13th, along with great people watching.
If you don’t have a ticket and want to roll the dice on scalping a badge, Washington Road has a few re-sellers and brokers, but you’ll usually pay a pretty penny if you do get lucky and find an available pass.
Facilities at the Augusta National include ATMs, Golf Shops, First Aid and telephone banks all over the course. Remember the rules: Absolutely NO cell phones or devices are allowed. Cameras are allowed on non-tournament days only (Practice Rounds and Par – Tournament) but NOT Thursday through Sunday. Any bags, pocketbooks, or backpacks larger than 10”x10”x12” are not allowed. Each entrance features an intimidating small green wooden box – if your bag doesn’t fit in there, you have to check it or take it back to your vehicle. Also no food, beverages, or coolers are allowed.
The large pro-shop is a veritable mall of all things with a Masters logo. Shipping is offered near the shop exit so you can send your purchases home. The busiest shopping day is Monday and there are check-stands around the course if you get tired of lugging your goods.
Dining in Augusta
The concession food sold on the course is not only inexpensive, it’s very good. Try the famous Pimento Cheese or my personal favorite, the Egg Salad sandwich; both excellent Southern staples of the Masters. I once walked 36 holes just to justify four egg salad sandwiches – worth every step.
But, if you’re looking for a place to eat off site, here are some local favorites:
Surrey Center (at the corner of Highland Avenue and Wheeler Road) offers many dining options including French Market Grille (a legendary Masters favorite featuring Creole cuisine, fresh oysters, and an outdoor putting green for those waiting to be seated); Abel Brown (Southern), Takosushi (Far East meets Southwest); Calvert’s (high end/fine dining); Finch & Fifth (American Cuisine), Bodega Ultima (Global Cuisine); and Oliviana’s (Italian). Also Surrey Tavern features a fun bar and live music.
For an authentic Southern dining experience, try Honey From the Rock, across from the Augusta National, and Fat Man’s (an authentic old-school Augusta experience). For BBQ and ribs, check out South Bound Smokehouse.
If you’d like to experience Augusta’s downtown scene, head to Craft & Vine, Nacho Mama’s Burritos, Frog Hollow Tavern, The Bees Knees, Farmhaus Burger, Whiskey Bar Kitchen, and Augustino’s in the Marriot Hotel.
Other Augusta favorites include Sheehan’s (upscale Irish pub) and, from the owners of Sheehan’s, the new Beck’s on Kings Way nearby. Also, Rae’s Coastal Cafe and Rhinehart’s Oyster Bar are good for casual seafood. Cadwallader’s Cafe and Edgar’s Grille offer some of the top dining experiences in Augusta. Village Deli near Daniel Field is a super reliable casual restaurant for anything from burgers to salads with a full bar.
If you’re interested in a sports bar venue, check out Tin Lizzy’s, Wild Wing Cafe, Carolina Ale House, or Hooters. Any visit to Augusta should include visiting the Partridge Inn and its bar and restaurant. Augusta’s home of the best fried chicken is Wife Saver (yes, that is really the name) with several locations around Augusta.
Finally, chains abound for the consistency seekers including Longhorn’s, Red Lobster, Applebee’s, PF Chang’s, Bonefish Grill, O’Charley’s and a Southern favorite: Waffle House.
Nightlife options include: The Indian Queen, The Soul Bar, Surrey Tavern, The Country Club, and Sky City.
If you can play a round of golf while visiting Augusta, here are some local options:
Forest Hills Golf Club (a beautiful Donald Ross course where Bobby Jones won the 1930 Southeastern Open prior to his Grand Slam win), Jones Creek Golf Club (modern Rees Jones course), The River Golf Club (Jim Fazio course on the banks of the Savannah River), and Bartram Trail Golf Club. A more inexpensive option is Goshen Plantation Golf Club. Tee-times book up early for Masters week so call ahead.
All in all, the Masters provides the ultimate week to visit Augusta whether you spend the day on the course or just out around town to enjoy the experience of “being nearby.” When I was growing up, I always found it fascinating how many people would come to Augusta during Masters week without tickets to the tournament. One day, I asked one of these visitors why and his reply was: “When I tell people I was ‘in Augusta’ for the Masters, sometimes that’s all you need to say.” Well, there you go.
– Lee Heffernan, a contributing writer for Lake Oconee Living magazine, owns and operates a marketing and advertising firm, Heffernan Marketing, Inc. based in Greensboro, and is the co-author of Gentlemen Only.