AUGUSTA, Ga. — Savvy patrons at The Masters abide by a single mantra, one more important than "use sunscreen" or "leave the cell phone":
Not everyone watches The Masters from along the 18th fairway or amid the grandstands at Amen Corner. But everyone, everyone makes their way to the souvenir shop sooner or later. And if you wait until the end of the day to grab your prizes, well ... the lines will make the queues at Disney World look like a drive-thru window.
If you've never had the good fortune of winning a lottery, you can have the same experience by getting your hands on a badge and telling everyone you're headed to The Masters. All of a sudden, you find yourself besieged by "simple" requests: pick me up a t-shirt! Hey, can you grab me a golf towel? If you're going to be there, grab me a logo ball ...
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Here's the thing: there are a few people for whom you simply have to buy gifts. Your father, for one. The guy who taught you the game of golf, and you're not going to get him something from the sport's holiest shrine? What kind of a kid are you? And your mom. She gave you life, she carried you in her womb for nine months, and you can't spring for a freaking t-shirt? And if you happen to be a family type, you've got the spouse and the kids ... it never ends.
As you can see from my receipt there at right, I managed to keep the shopping to under three bills, and even that was buying exactly one item — a twenty-dollar bag tag — for myself. The rest went to family, friends, and my two-day-old nephew. (Welcome to the world, little Howard George! I got you a putter to beat on your future siblings!)
And I went in there with a targeted plan. Woe betide the fool who waits in the line, which can stretch to 45 minutes late in the day, without a specific shopping list and a specific set of sizes and preferences for gift recipients. You, my friend, are screwed. Getting out of an Augusta souvenir shop spending less than $100 requires a herculean will; go in without a plan, and you'll be staring at a mortgage payment's worth of Masters-monogrammed apparel and tchotchkes.
It's not that the items themselves are that expensive; prices are comparable to any other pro shop in America. It's just that this is the only place on the planet to get gear with that distinctive flag-and-continental-U.S. logo. (Sure, the flag's planted closer to Birmingham, Ala. than Augusta, but you get the picture.) You want your friends and family to know just how much you care about them? Pick 'em up some Masters goodies and you'll smooth over all kinds of smoldering family conflict. Guaranteed.
So when you do find your way into the Augusta souvenir shop, breathe deep and break out the credit card, my friend. Just be sure to apologize to it ahead of time for the damage you're about to inflict.