A Spectators Guide to Augusta National

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As frozen ground thaws, golfers around the country anticipate easing a tee into the ground for the first time this year. Like pitchers and catchers reporting to camp, it is a rite of spring. Professional golf has its version of spring training, the west coast and Florida swings. Golf also has its version of opening day, Masters Week.
 
With all due respect to The President's Cup, The Crosby (I mean AT&T), Doral and The Players Championship, no truly meaningful shots are hit for almost eight months from August until April. In the past, odd numbered years got some important action during Ryder Cup week, but it's still a long wait until the real season starts in Augusta.
 
When the gates opened at 8 a.m. Monday morning the most respectful, knowledgeable fans in sports were welcomed back to their hallowed site. During the practice rounds, watching golf at Augusta is a random exercise. Players sometimes play nine holes, then have lunch, or pick up other competitors at the turn. Some go back and play the same side again or spend time on the practice green waiting to join a game. The mood is light and loose; some pictures, some jokes, a few autographs.
 
Thursday through Sunday is a different story. You need a specific plan of attack if you want to catch as much action as possible. Here's the Marr Technique.
 
Thursday and Friday allow you the chance to see all of the players in the field. On these days I usually watch on different holes than I do on the weekend. The fourth hole is a treacherous par-3. Watch there and you won't feel so badly about your own game. The fifth hole is a longish par-4. Dow Finsterwald is the rules official whose position is to the left of the green. I always stop by and visit with the man who finished third in a playoff to Arnold Palmer and Gary Player in 1962. On the right side of the green, up a short walkway is a hidden area with sizable concession and merchandise stands complete with picnic tables, yet free of the long lines sometimes found at other locations.
 
On all competitive days try to steer away from Amen corner, it's a very popular place without a great deal of space.

On the weekend you need to be efficient. Playing in twosomes, the golfers are fast, the golf is meaningful and the gallery is heavy. First, make sure you go with your younger brother. He should be at the gate by 8am with two chairs. When the gates open, he should go to the 18th green and put the chairs on the golfer's left in the front third of the green as close to the ropes as possible. Now you have a seat up front for the Sunday pin placement. Masters patrons are so polite they won't take or move your seats even if you don't show up until the last group is on the 72nd green. When your brother gets back to the hotel, make sure he doesn't wake you. There's still three hours until the first group tees off.
 
When you get to the course go to the trophy room and look at the names on the huge replica of the clubhouse at Augusta. Grab a couple of egg salad sandwiches next door, and then get a pairing sheet before reaching the first hole.
 
The crowd under the oak tree behind the clubhouse will have thinned from the practice days. It's time for business. The practice areas are usually packed with spectators so head out to my favorite spot. The sixth tee is on a hill where spectators sit. Players actually hit over a hill full of people, though the terrain shields the gallery from view. At this location you can watch players on the 6th green and wait for play to reach the 16th as well.
 
The 16th is a great par-3 with some difficult pin positions and a ridge that feeds a ball to the back left pin position on Sunday. Go back to the 18th periodically to visit your chair and neighbors. They are polite enough to leave your seat unmolested; you should be polite enough to become part of that section.
 
Another location where seats are often available is the grandstand at 13. A lot of action happens on the 13th green and you're very close to 14 tee, but you're out in the sun and locked in to your bleacher seat. If you alternate between 6,16, 13 green and your seat at 18 you'll see a great deal of golf, a good portion of the course, and if you're in your seat at the right time, history will be made about 20 yards in front of you.
 
The pageantry of the event adds to the feeling even if you can't attend. And the possibilities are limitless. The week begins with a limited field that varies in size with the number of past champions and special invitees. This year only 88 players will have the opportunity to win the Grand Slam. By Saturday, that number will have dwindled to about 50 depending on ties at the cut line. By Monday only one man will have a shot at the Slam. One man will carry with the glorious title of 2002 Masters Champion.