Impressions of a Masters first-timer


AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Never been to the Masters? Until Wednesday I hadn't either. HD or 3D, the TV cameras don't tell the whole story at Augusta National. It took standing on the grounds with my own two feet to appreciate these five things about the event:

* Next time you see a picture of Magnolia Lane, imagine that just outside the gated entrance is Washington Road, a commercial hodgepodge of cheap hotels and casual dining right off I-20. Grand Strand golfers: it's all too similar to some of the dingier parts of Kings Highway in North Myrtle Beach.

What would Bobby Jones say if he learned that steps from his masterpiece, Hooters is the place to party after tournament action?

Photo gallery from Wednesday at the Masters

* You can't help but marvel at the logistical perfection of the Masters on Wednesday. Every marshal, cashier and security guard is professional, polite and helpful -- not some grizzled retiree on a power trip. There isn't a single piece of paper or cup on the ground. Free, shuttle-less parking is right on site. Outside the gates, traffic isn't that much worse than your average rush hour. Walking around the course and getting from one point to another is an absolute breeze. Comparatively, the U.S. Open and Ryder Cups I've attended, even early in the week felt like cattle drives.

At other golf events, the host's usual, scenic parkland ambiance is diluted by massive, temporary white tents and loud air conditioning units. Not at Augusta National. Every building, from the gift shop to the on-course food-and-beverage vendors is permanent and built tastefully, often tucked under trees into the landscape. And it's quiet everywhere. If corporate seating and suites are located anywhere on the course, I sure didn't see any.

* I really like the Masters' concept of free seating areas in front of the many standing spots on hillsides. You can purchase a green Masters folding chair for $29, drop it off at your favorite spot on the course early in the morning, stick your business card on it, and it's reserved for the whole day. If you're a little vertically impaired like me and spend most of your day outside the ropes on your tippy-toes, buying a chair is a no-brainer.

* After walking the 17th hole from tee to green, Kenny Perry's bogey in 2009 (and the many contenders who have fumbled the green jacket away) makes a lot of sense. Jack Nicklaus' 17th hole birdie in '86 is now all that more remarkable to me as well. The narrow, uphill drive is intimidating (I don't know how my banana ball could possibly avoid the trees) and the swells and drops on the green are equally terrifying.

* On the flip side, to the eye, the tiny little 12th seemed like the least impressive of the four par 3s at Augusta. Then again, I didn't have to pull a club and hit the shot.