Plenty of people have been to Augusta National. Thousands stream here every year for the practice rounds, holding their tickets as if their admission to the site of the Holy Grail. Up until about five years ago, you could just show up in Augusta, walk to the gates of Augusta National and buy a ticket to the practice round. For the par three tournament one year, so many people showed up, the membership decided it was literally unsafe for the spectators and decided to go to a lottery system and limit the number of tickets made available.
At the Masters, your ticket is good for one particular day in the practice rounds, Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday. What’s called a Series Badge is good for the tournament days only, Thursday thru Sunday. The change in the crowd is dramatic. Practice rounds have patrons moving about the course in a frantic pace, trying to get everything in during their one day. They’re dressed in golf clothes, with the names of clubs from all over the country emblazoned on their chests. Starting on Thursday, the crowd is smaller, quieter, and older. They take up positions all over the course, watching the parade of players come through, acknowledging their skill with polite applause. They’re dressed is a more demure fashion, khaki jackets, floppy hats and sensible shoes.
This year, those shoes need to be waterproof, with rain falling on the course throughout the beginning of the week. The wet conditions have also changed the golf course, again, making it even longer. They’ve redesigned the fifth hole, moving the tee behind the fourth green, giving it some more length, and they’ve added two, huge, gaping bunkers on the left side of the fairway. “I’m not going in there,” Davis Love said yesterday after a practice round. “I’ll go into the trees right before I go in there. It’s so steep David (Duval) said he wouldn’t snowboard down it, so you know it’s bad.” Duval doesn’t necessarily like the changes, saying they’ve taken some of the drama away from the tournament. The two-time runner up added, “There aren’t as many birdie holes, you have to pick your spots. The back nine isn’t there for the taking anymore, even the par fives. If you had a two shot lead going to the back on Sunday, you might take nine pars and feel pretty good about your chances.”
“You can tell by the roars,” 1979 champ Fuzzy Zoeller observed. “It used to be you could tell what was happening by the roars coming up the hill from all over the course. Now, there aren’t so many ’cause guys are trying to scratch it out, trying to make pars.” One concensus is that length is essential. Fred Couples was amazed how long you have to hit it to just get into position. “From what I saw out there today, I’m not going to say you can’t play the course if you’re not long, but it’s definitely a bomber’s paradise.”