AUGUSTA, Ga. — Locals call Augusta National Golf Club simply “The National.” I can relate because, for a few years in my hometown of Nashville, we called the stadium where the Tennessee Titans play simply “The Coliseum.” For the record, that wasn’t because it was a really cool name, because it wasn’t. Instead, it was because the Titans couldn’t find a sponsor for their building after all the Adelphia executives went to prison. Then, when they finally did find a new sponsor, they dropped the Roman/Greek mythology mishmash and went with “LP Field,” which is what I now call it when I’m giving out-of-towners a tour of some of the iron smelters that flank the stadium down by the river. “There it is,” I say, “Ol’ LP Building Products Field. Many a storied name has competed within its walls, including Charlie Whitehurst.”
So, wait, I actually can’t relate. In fact, going to an NFL game and going to the Masters really couldn’t be any different.
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PARKING & EATING
Obviously, the Masters is about as unique as it gets, and comparing it with any other sporting event might not be entirely fair. But having spent last Thursday at The National on my first trip to the tournament, what really stood out were not the typical details I had heard mentioned by others—like, for instance, “Hilly! So hilly!” (Yes, it was hilly)—but instead the many simple things the Masters does that frankly are not terribly complicated and could easily be adopted by a number of different sporting venues across the country. In short, the Masters takes what are major annoyances at any other major sporting event and, somehow, turns them into strengths.
The Masters, for instance, provides free parking to anyone with a ticket. The National itself apparently has been gradually gobbling up neighborhoods in and around its location for some time now and a few of these neighborhoods have been transformed from a collection of modest middle class homes into an empty field for 51 weeks of the year and a parking lot of cars for 1. At Titans’ games, on the other hand, you pay $20 and still park more than a mile away over the river. And even if you get your hands on a parking pass for a game, unless you show up at 9 a.m. for the noon start, there’s a good possibility you are going to sit in non-moving traffic snarl as up to four thoroughfares dump car after unending car onto a two-lane road which feeds almost all of the primary parking lots, while maybe two cops stand in the middle of the street, in front of the Shoney’s, and act like they are actually managing what is a thorough and complete logistical breakdown. Indeed, people pay thousands of dollars a year for one of these passes and, thus, pay a thousand dollars a year … to park. At the Masters, we pulled in Thursday morning at approximately 8:30 a.m., had about as much traffic as I have walking to pick up the paper at the end of my driveway, and then were motioned into a vast field of shining vehicles where sharp-dressed youngsters decisively directed me into a space. No exchange of cash, no ticket to put on my dashboard, no $20 to park in the backyard of a strangely creepy business.
Another item frequently mentioned in discussions of the Masters is the cheap sandwiches. And yes, they do have cheap sandwiches, but that’s not really the whole story. Basically, like with free parking, the Masters took something that really irks people about a large-scale sporting event and made it make sense. I personally hate paying $15 to get a bad hot dog, bad fries, and a beer. At the Masters, they provide food at the price that it is probably actually worth. You get an egg salad sandwich on white bread. You pay $1.50. You get a beer, and you pay $4. If you want some crackers, you might pay $1.
More than anything it made me stop and wonder why the ruling party at any other sporting event would go to such lengths to take advantage of me by supremely gouging me on a basic amenity like food. The NFL, in fact, refuses to let you bring in your own food and then provides nothing but highly mediocre, wildly overpriced dregs. What kind of relationship do I really have with the Tennessee Titans that they would trap me somewhere and then charge me $6 for a Coke? It wouldn’t seem to be revolutionary, although it feels that way: at the Masters, you get food at a decent price.
Something else most people don’t mention is how efficient the concessions are. This one, truly, is a remarkable feat and so simple that it boggles the mind why every other sporting facility in the U.S. doesn’t copy exactly what they do. First, no one takes any orders. The food is already prepared and beers are out, ready to be picked up. You move through a cafeteria line, grab a sandwich, grab a beer, and then find yourself at one of the many cashiers out of the way, who can check you out. At Titans games and even Nashville Predators games, you typically wait in long, terribly slow-moving lines, where the customer five people in front of you sits and thinks and waits and then orders eight orders of nachos and four different beers, which the people behind the counter then decide to finally go back and prepare. (What needs to be prepared with nachos? What possible reason would they be made to order?) And then the server pours a beer, lets it overflow a little bit, pours out a bit of foam, puts it back under the tap and tops it off. Why do we need to do that? Why, in fact, do we need to even order different types of beer? Why not do as the Masters does: Light Beer, Regular Beer, Imported Beer. Do I really need to be able to choose between Bud, Miller and Coors? Just get me the “Light” and be done with it. Also, I’m not one who would pick up a prepackaged sandwich at an airport because the sandwiches were probably made six weeks ago. Here, the sandwiches are made that morning. They’re white bread sandwiches: pimento cheese, egg salad and a few others. They are exactly what they sound like: tasty, but nothing terribly complex. $1.50. In the end, we moved through lines multiple times throughout the day in different parts of the golf course and it was never remotely a burden.
Relatedly, I have no idea how they made the men’s restroom move as fast as they did by merely adding a few high school kids as attendants who direct you to an open urinal, but they did that too. As for security, for every minute we spent in line at the Masters, we would have spent 13 at a Titans’ game and there is really no logical explanation for the discrepancy.
I simply did not expect this model of efficiency, this simple but brilliant solution to the most aggravating part of any major sporting event: parking, food, toilets, and security. And, sure, the Masters appears to have a lot of expendable cash, but, of course, so do NFL football teams. Plus, there is simply no indication that these changes would necessitate some large outlay of funds. And even if it did, investing in the sporting experience really should be more important.
But it is not simply what appeared to be the Masters’ unimpeachable desire for me, personally, to have a good time. Logistics are a lot of it and were an ongoing theme of our 48-hour Masters journey.
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TRAFFIC & DRIVING
We got out of Nashville about an hour after we had planned Wednesday: 1 p.m., instead of noon. Part of that was because we were two guys with two kids apiece and we work and it was the middle of the week; the other part was that Nashville has a major traffic problem. The refrain around here that I have heard for 20 years is that we don’t want to become the next Atlanta—we don’t want to grow too fast without planning for transit and suddenly wake up to find our city moves like Moscow. The big secret for all of you non-Nashvillians is this: we are already there. We are Atlanta. We have a major traffic problem that is never going to be fixed.
Traffic has been increasing exponentially in the past four years in the recent Nashville boom and, during that time, we did nothing to try and help it. We have no viable public transport and we currently have a lame-duck mayor whose transit plan was scuttled. So as mayoral candidates jockey for votes, nothing whatsoever is being done. Thus, we sat through four full lights at 8th and Wedgewood at 1 p.m. on a Wednesday—mid-week lunch rush?—before finally getting through and hopping on the interstate. We left Nashville timed perfectly to hit the aforementioned traffic mecca that is Atlanta at exactly 5:30 p.m. local time.
My companion for the Masters was an old grade school and high school friend, Charlie, who was navigating and who, like me, had never been to the Masters. After making good time over Monteagle and through Chattanooga, I asked him, as we were approaching the ATL, if I should take the bypass. He said, “No. Charge the squall.” This quote apparently comes from one of Charlie’s family fishing trips off the coast of Florida, where their chartered boat captain, seeing a storm on the horizon, recommended squall-charging, rather than a detour. Needless to say, they spent the rest of the day in the midst of a sea storm, not fishing so much as now and again vomiting overboard. We charged the squall.
As we buzzed closer and closer to the heart of the city, we were understandably concerned about dead-center, Olympic-torch-festooned deep downtown Atlanta at the heart of rush hour. As such, Charlie was analyzing Google’s take on the matter. According to the flashing red and green lines on Google Maps, there were a few options for us to bypass some of the worst pile-ups, one of which was apparently approaching. Decisions had to be made fast, my friends, and we chose to get off the interstate somewhere near Georgia Tech in order to maneuver through various side roads and urban thoroughfares, and reemerge on Interstate 20, going east, toward Augusta, somewhere around the way. Google, however, did not exactly give us a detailed description of its “quicker way,” or tell us, for instance, what might be occurring on any of the streets to which it was directing our journey. In fact, Google also didn’t really tell us if the “street” we were turning on was actually a “street” or an “alley” or, more precisely, a “back alley.”
On one particularly narrow road with cars parked on each side in what I would call “not the best part of Atlanta,” a man was casually strolling down the middle, carrying a knapsack. When he noticed that we were approaching, he ever-so-slightly adjusted his walking direction, so that he was dead center of the street, nearly impossible to get past. For a fleeting moment or two, I contemplated our next move. A quick left and a jerk right and I might be able to fit around him and then I could speed off, with a scrape or two here or there a small price to pay for freedom, or, alternatively, I could try a very quick Austin-Powers-stop-reverse-realign-forward move while hoping no one had silently blocked our path from behind, a horde of zombies perhaps. At the last moment, the man did, indeed, step aside. We sped by and eventually made it to I-20. Google said we saved three minutes.
But our Google Maps experience, in hindsight, seemed to be an interesting salvo in this logistics debate that has oddly sprung from one day of watching professional golf. The Google machine seemed to be working at an insane pace calculating and recalculating, routing and re-routing us on the fly, all to save a few minutes and move us through Atlanta more efficiently. But had Google lost its way, too concerned about increasing efficiency to notice that it may have been giving us detailed directions to our deaths?
On that note, golf, to me, appears to be the major sport most concerned with efficiency. With soccer (and similarly hockey), there is an ample amount of bloat. Indeed, it’s almost all bloat, 99% bloat, and a few moments where the goal is actually accomplished. Football and basketball are, likewise, less about efficiency. Plenty of things happen that simply do not matter. A lot of cacophony, back and forth, before an end that may not be simply a sum of all of its parts. It might feel more like luck, whoever had the ball last. Golf, on the other hand, is only concerned with one thing: completing a task in the most efficient way possible. Great beauty, sure, great skill, great personalities, great artistry, but the point of the game: finish in as few strokes as you can.
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If we happened to be in a really in-depth getting-to-know-you session and, for whatever reason, we got around to who my favorite golfer was, I would tell you, without hesitation, “BRANDT SNEDEKER!” (I would shout this at this point because, if we are ever talking personal favorite golfers, I’m assuming we’re both drunk or else this getting-to-know-you session has taken a strange turn and I’m starting to get a little scared.) This is simply because I went to high school with Brandt.
I really was wondering if there was anything more profound in this particular type of fandom other than the concept that it’s cool to cheer for someone you know and, well, I don’t think I’ve discovered any. But as I contemplate my entire sports-loving life, ever since youth, I found that I have always been supremely interested in some type of personal connection with whomever I am cheering for. When I was a huge University of Tennessee fan when I was very young—more regional than, say, personal, but still with familial connections—I would read box scores of NFL games solely to see the stats of ex-Vols. For whatever reason, it brought me great (or, make that, fleeting but glorious) joy to discover that Carl Pickens had racked up yardage the day before. Even now, I look up R.A. Dickey’s box score whenever he pitches, just because he also went to my high school. In fact, I, a 34-year-old man, look up Vanderbilt baseball stats on a regular basis, because one of my boss’s sons is a badass switch-hitting sophomore for the defending national champs.
And so, sure, maybe there’s no deeper meaning there, other than the obvious one. As I grow older, I have come to realize and feel in my bones a gnawing sense of the fundamentally mammoth number of human beings on the planet. For instance, I know about 2% of the people on my street. I know probably 0.0005% of the people in “Green Hills” which is a very small section of Davidson County, which is most, but not really all, of Nashville, which means I know absolutely nobody even in my own city and even trying to contemplate the number of people beyond that can be existentially debilitating. As such, we strive and grasp any way we know how for meaning, for significance, for something that raises us above the never-ending multitude and … yeah, so, that’s why I like Brandt.
Once we got into the course and realized that we needed some type of game plan other than aimlessly steering toward any crowd we might see, there was really no question that we were going to follow Brandt. He was teeing off around 10:45 with Martin Kaymer and J.B. Holmes, a Kentuckian. They were following Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy and some other dude and, thus, we’d let the crowd clear after those two superstars and we’d be able to see the course while cheering on a friend.
After watching Adam Scott and Dustin Johnson start on No. 1, we’d learned our lesson that it’s tough to really see what’s happening at the opening tee box. There’s no hill to prop on and look down, like on the 9th green or elsewhere. Instead, it’s unassuming and the man making the announcements can’t really be heard when you’re the seventh person back, so we ditched the starting box and positioned ourselves in the shade on the fairway to catch Brandt’s second shot.
His drive was solid and clean and went left of the fairway bunkers near our general vicinity. While watching him walk down the ravine and back up, I overheard a few comments from someone standing nearby.
The person was talking to his friend about Brandt.
Brandt Snedeker … great putter … Kansas City.
Brandt isn’t from Kansas City
Look at him. He does everything just like Tom Watson. Even walks like Tom Watson.
I have no idea if this is true, but I have my doubts.
Then his friend said, Look at these frat boys, referring to someone nearby. They stack up their cups, so you can see how many beers they’ve had. The original commentator scoffed and made some sort of expression of disgust.
It was 10:45 a.m., but it felt like a lot later. Did I mention beers were only $4? And they come in cool, hard-plastic, souvenir cups?
On 2, Brandt hit a remarkable golf shot where he landed the ball on a strip of green just beyond a gaping bunker. He tapped in for birdie. It appeared that Brandt did not, like I usually do, just aim for anything that could possibly be referred to as “the green” and then pat themselves on the back if they were lucky enough to make it on. Instead, the primary concern seemed to be pin placement and where the ball needed to go. Thus, this shot on 2 was ridiculous and skilled and pin-pointed to sit on what looked like a tiny drone landing strip, because that’s where the ball needed to be for a birdie try.
In between 3 and 4, another concession station revealed itself. Here’s a helpful hint related thereto that we learned during our endeavor. As I noted, beer is cheap and you can buy two at a time, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you should. We may or may not have double-fisted early in the day, but that was because we had not quite come to understand all that was the beauty of the Masters’ efficiency. The NFL obviously does have pretty decent beer delivery systems set up in the form of the poor souls who lug around lukewarm 16-ounce plastic bottles in bins around their necks, while hiking up and down stairs in the sweltering heat or bitter cold, while periodically stopping and standing directly in front of you while you’re trying to watch Bishop Sankey gallop for 2 yards. But at other events—rock concerts, perhaps?—there can be a concern about having to continue to make return trips to the beer station to stay fully stocked during the festivities. Thus, we may have grabbed two apiece just to try and avoid having to make another pit stop too soon. In hindsight, this was not necessary.
And so, as we raced to stay with Brandt’s group, which is slightly harder then it seems since we, as fans, cannot necessarily strut across the green to get to Point B in the most efficient manner, we definitely looked like complete buffoons fast-walking across a fairway lugging two completely full cups of beer at 11 a.m. (or later, yes, definitely much later at this point). That’s not to say we did not get immense joy while imagining Brandt, focused and intense, looking up from his ball for a second to see two jokers from his high school standing there, staring at him, pounding beers before noon. Hey, Brandt, Brandt, look over here, it’s Stuart and Charlie!! Remember us? Ha! Pretty amazing, huh? We’re here! For the record, you should consider not doing that if you happen to be in attendance.
Brandt played well on the front 9. He had a handful of tap-ins for par, and, if any of those had a slightly different roll, things could have been different, but I’m sure plenty of golfers say the same thing after every round. At 9, which is right near the main entry point for the course, open for any and all spectators, Brandt sunk a birdie in front of a crowd to put himself 2-under-par at the turn.
We left at this point to watch Tiger Woods play 1. We went back to the same spot on the fairway where we’d been before. There, two cameramen with a lens about 2 feet long were right next to us and were taking a number of pictures of each of Tiger’s swings, even when he was 300 yards away. We corresponded with a stranger nearby about the size of these lenses. After Tiger’s second shot near the fairway bunker, this stranger noted, “Did you hear that? Took about 10 photos there,” as if digital photos were some type of precious commodity. We nodded.
We raced to catch back up with Brandt’s group, but 10 to 13 is a trek, especially when stopping for the tee shots of Ben Martin and Cameron Tringale on 10 and then racing down the hill thereafter. Eventually, we found them, but when we did Brandt was in the front bunker on 12 and his body language did not look good. It was the start of things to come.
After the earlier cup-stacking comment, Charlie and I discussed feeling some self-consciousness as he began collecting our empty cups to take home for souvenirs. But as the stack grew, so did our confidence in our cup-collecting endeavor and we started to brush aside the question of why would we possibly need so many plastic cups to bring home. And so, by the last four holes of Brandt’s round, we were proudly holding a stack of, let’s say, X number of cups—mostly empty Diet Coke cups, if I remember correctly—and suddenly sipping a nice cool beer out of the very top of this stack, like it was the Stanley Cup, felt right under the circumstances.
By the end, our stack of cups was the subject of a number of additional conversations with others. We started saying our wives were back at the concession stand and most of these were theirs. When one older man asked us if we had been dumpster diving, we said, “Uhhh, yes, definitely dumpster diving. These are certainly not all of our cups.” In the end, though, it will all be worth it whenever I can find a cabinet to store 10 plastic Masters cups.
At another point, while walking from 14 to 15, I found myself suddenly engaged in a conversation with a stranger.
Stranger: “Where’s that say Bubba ended up? 1, 2, or 3?” He was referring to one of the large leaderboards several hundred yards away.
Me: “1, looks like he bogeyed 18.”
Stranger: “Not a very good day, I mean for him.”
Me, suddenly bursting with golf knowledge: “Well, I think he’s OK for Day 1.”
Stranger, backtracking: “Oh, yes, of course, anything in red is fine for today.”
I gave the man an imaginary salute and walked on.
After a bogey at 12, Brandt went through a brutal par-bogey-double-bogey stretch that ruined his chances and ultimately his tournament, as he missed the cut by one stroke after a 73 on Friday.
On 15, when Brandt was in the midst of this crumble, he forcefully and openly lamented his second shot that had appeared to go to the left of the green. I figured, after such a reaction, that he must have hit it into the crowd, but then we noticed it was actually fine, just on the left fringe, but not too far from the hole. He was quoted the next day saying he chose to hit it to the left, directly at the pin, because he was being stupid. The smart shot is to leave it 15 feet to the right of the pin. The green was so fast from the left that it was nearly impossible to get the ball to stop anywhere near the hole. He biffed his short chip, and so he had to take another. He bogeyed the hole.
Being a Snedeker fan, you have to anticipate the proverbial wheels completely falling off because it does appear to happen a fair amount. When things go bad on a hole, they can go spectacularly bad and when things go bad in a round, he might post an 80. He recovered a tad bit at the end and birdied 17, and then gave himself a decent shot to birdie 18, but it wasn’t to happen. We contemplated yelling out something along the lines of “It’s a long weekend, Brandt. Keep your head up.” But, among other things, that was kind of a lot of words to say while shouting from a golf crowd.
We turned back around after Brandt left and watched Tiger hit his second shot on 9 from the fairway on 1, which was unusual. He scrambled out of pine straw up to the 9th green, before reading the green perfectly and leaving himself a tap-in for bogey. It was 5 p.m. by then.
On our way out (after a quick, easy, and super efficient trip to the gift shop), we passed the practice area again. Miguel Angel Jimenez was on the putting green, rocking a cigar as he had been at 9 a.m., when we saw him practicing his chipping next to a bearded Lee Westwood. This time, Jimenez appeared to be taking putting tips from a 20-year-old wearing a backpack. Webb Simpson was there, as well, practicing 30-footers and getting them within a few inches each time. And Brandt was already back on the driving range—first with his caddie, but, as the day seemed to turn ever so slightly into dusk, by himself. He kept pounding away, shot after shot, trying to become more mechanical, more efficient.
We stayed that evening with my aunt- and uncle-in-law in Waynesboro, Ga., the Bird Dog Capital of the World, 25 minutes south of Augusta. After dinner at Luigi’s in downtown Augusta, we sat on the back patio of my uncle-in-law’s house, sipping Pappy Van Winkle and listening to his and my cousin-in-law’s stories about, among other things, The National. About this provision of the tax code I learned in law school and never thought too much about other than noting that, like many things in the tax code, it was crazy arbitrary: that up to two weeks of rental income for renting your home is not taxed. According to the locals, that’s because the IRS audited a number of Augusta residents back in the day for renting their houses out during the tournament, and Clifford Roberts, the founder of The National (along with Bobby Jones) called up his friend Ike and told him he needed to put a stop to it. Or about the terrible storm a year or so ago that took out Ike’s tree and a few other trees on the course. Allegedly, a number of individuals were waiting at the course through the storm and, as soon as it became safe, they turned on enormous lights, hidden in the trees, and members and staff alike began walking the course picking up pine cones and debris in the dead of night. When the crowds came in the next day, the course looked perfect, while any trees that had gone down were stumps in the morning and completely non-existent by midafternoon. About how Ike’s tree was apparently sent, in part, to the Eisenhower Library, while samples of the tree’s remains were used to grow a number of different saplings. Or, finally, about Clifford Roberts himself, at the age of 83, suffering from terminal cancer, shooting himself on the course at The National.
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So, sure, I love efficiency in traffic, in moving large numbers of humans through enclosed spaces and in getting a beer at a sporting event. And I prefer my efficiency to not lose its grip on common sense. But, in sports and in golf especially, the human reigns. It’s because a whole bunch of efficient, mechanical, nameless and faceless golfers, founders, staff, and members certainly didn’t make The National what it is, just like hyper-vigilant efficiency doesn’t make a 20-year-old Pappy. Characters do and character does. So, in the end, if it takes Brandt 20 or 23 years to win a major, I’m OK with it.
Stuart A. Burkhalter is the author of Catawampus: The Fertility Process from a Man’s Perspective, which, among other things, was named a Finalist in Foreword Reviews’ 2014 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Awards. Stuart is an attorney and lives in Nashville with his wife and two daughters.
All photos courtesy Getty Images and Burkhalter