April 06, 2009
Devil Ball's at the 2009 Masters, and we're bringing you the inside scoop on what it's like on the grounds at Augusta National. First, we try to get to the grounds at Augusta National.
If you ever find yourself in possession of a Masters ticket -- sorry, badge -- and you decide not to join the thronging horde of fans -- sorry, patrons -- that descend on Augusta National every April, well, friend, you've got yourself one serious bargaining chip. Through means that I will not disclose here, since I don't want my benefactor losing his/her right to attend Augusta in the future if I somehow transgress a rule, I ended up with an Augusta badge. (No, I wasn't there in an official capacity; my man Dan Wetzel is handling things from the official Yahoo! side. Me, I'm in with the common folk -- common being a relative term when you're talking the gallery at Augusta National.) And I suddenly found myself with more friends than I ever knew I had before. An Augusta badge does wonders for your ego, if you let it.
However, since reasonable Augusta lodging is tougher to find at Masters time than Augusta tickets, I commuted in early Monday morning. About an hour outside Augusta, I stopped at a Chick-Fil-A for a predawn breakfast. Apparently about a dozen of my fellow patrons-to-be had the same idea, and were scattered in foursomes and twosomes around the joint. Now, golf fans get a bad rap for being a homogenous group of white upper-crust Americans in khakis and golf shirts, and that's simply not true. Of the twelve of us there, several were wearing visors. A couple were wearing shorts. Yeah, we were all white, but we had different-colored hair from each other. That counts, right?
You start seeing the signs for golf traffic a good 50 miles outside Augusta. They point you to radio stations for advice; when you tune in, you find that the Lockjaw & Goofball morning show, or whatever it is, has been turned over almost completely to Masters parking coverage. The routine runs like this: phone call, traffic report, block of ads, traffic report. Repeat over and over again, occasionally throwing in a wacky song parody or a Hootie & The Blowfish tune.
Everyone who lives in Augusta knows a secret way to get to Augusta National, which is a good thing because the main routes get choked up faster than fast-food-laden arteries. The radio advises you to forget the GPS, since the traffic patters are all bollixed up come Masters time. Get off of Interstate 20, and you find yourself winding through two-lane roads of what I'm told is classic Augusta -- estates, manicured ranch homes, and "Cops"-esque shotgun shacks, often all on the same block. And everywhere, there are more white men in golf hats and khakis standing on corners looking to buy tickets.
You know you're getting close when you start seeing churches and homes frantically trying to wave you into their yard for parking. But right about the time you think this is a breeze and you'll be hanging with Tiger in five minutes, you hit traffic. And not just any traffic, either; that kind of slammed-up, slinking-through-back-roads, oh-God-we-haven't-moved-in-twenty-minutes traffic. And as the sun rises higher in the sky, you start to wonder ... will I ever get to Augusta?
Next: I get to Augusta.