Each year the media enter a ballot to play the Monday morning after the Masters has finished. Heres a tip-off: dont forget your caddie
This starts with an admission. Saturday mornings at United States-based major championships offer scope for a lie-in; with the consent of your employer, of course. So the early burst of my mobile on one such Saturday last year was met with a modicum of annoyance. What growth had occurred, and was it back home or here at Augusta?
It was here. My raffle ticket, which I had been describing with far more hope than expectation since 2011, had come up trumps in the media ballot. Go the Monday morning, I would take to Augusta National. To play.
Your thought process becomes utterly mangled at this point. There is no sporting equivalent, after all; no other platform on which all the money in the world cannot afford you playing access at least in some form. From first thinking the news is an elaborate hoax by a group of colleagues to the realisation that you dont have clubs in tow to potential travel disruption, of a bad weather forecast and most worryingly, acknowledgement that this will be a first game of golf of the year, panic decides in.
For a moment, I even asked myself if it was worth accepting this onceinalifetime opportunity. Ive played the Old Course and it is no fun, packed by fourball upon fourball. Perhaps this will be another letdown? Behave, Ewan.
In the media centre for the remainder of the Masters, you are treated like a EuroMillions winner. Bonaventure Discount Golf, a quite incredible Aladdins Cave of equipment, supplied rental clubs for $50. That was it; a $50 outlay to play Augusta National. It almost felt like cheating.
For years, Augustas director of communications, Steve Ethun, has used the greeting of Here comes Santa Claus when hosting the Sunday morning briefing with those pulled to play the following day. The dos and donts are considerably less stringent than even a decade ago, a matter apparently linked to the approach of the Augusta National chairperson, Billy Payne. The club relies on a media understanding that it would like to retain at least an element of privacy and sanctuary which, in this otherwise all-consuming world, actually seems fair enough. There is no hidden, horrible secret after all. Oh, and dont, under any circumstances, tip-off your caddie; as if a Scotsman would.
One quirk related to arrival time, which served as a jolt to those anxious to eke out every potential second of the Monday experience. One hour before tee day , not a minute earlier, or entry to Magnolia Lane will be refused. Driving along the most famous avenue in golf, it is impossible not to contemplate which greats had constructed the same journey. Perhaps it is with that tradition in intellect that the road has been left in a state of obvious disrepair; potholes to the same extent in a British street would trigger a landslide of complaints to the council.
Now the real fun was to start, in theory. Breakfast in the clubhouse wasnt novel, media are permitted entry during Masters week, but entry into the Champions Locker Room surely was. Richard Germany, the attendant there, creates a constant line in wisecracks which constructed me wonder whether or not he is afforded the same leeway when the Masters is taking place. His character rather indicated he is. I couldnt avoid a smart remark of my own when given the locker of Nick Faldo. The oak-panelled room is smaller than you would think, with lockers doubled up; Faldo has Trevor Immelman, the 2008 champ, for company.
A scout around the members shop discloses all Masters memorabilia has already been removed and replaced by Augusta National Golf Club merchandise. This was a snapshot of almost unnerving efficiency.
On the scope my caddie, Doug, introduces himself. This comes at an opportune moment, as I am standing there, recollecting every golfing basic shoulders, feet, hands, ball position as imposed on me by my father. The thought of regressing into Augustus Gloop, having drawn Willy Wonkas golden ticket, is petrifying.
Doug is to become the most valuable person in my life for the next five hours, procuring a sub-9 0 rating as opposed to a near-2 90. Augusta bag men are picked not only for their abilities but also an ability to be discreet. Doug tells me Adam Scott is the finest player he has ever worked for, that he spends his summers in New Jersey when Augusta is closed and how the caddie championship held at the home of the Masters in May, on the day after the venue officially shuts is able to quite the social occasion.
Casey, another caddie in our group of four, discloses he took the bag of Jordan Spieth on the Texans first visit to Augusta. So what did the man who became champion last year, rating? Oh, he only played nine holes. But he came back the next day and shot 68.
The course itself was familiar but its distinct challenges not so. Golfing venues with empty stands are routinely eerie. Perhaps the sense of paranoia at Augusta is unnecessary but you still feel every tree has a camera, every sprinkler head a microphone. You are never genuinely at ease.
Pins were in Sunday stances, tees moved up probably an aggregate of more than 1,000 yards. On the 11 th, I had a birdie putt of 10ft after playing driver, nine iron; from the championship tee, on what is the toughest pit on the course, there would be no scope at all for such a club for shot two.
Within a pit, my understanding of what Master challengers face was far, far greater than after five years of seeming on from just yards away. Putting to spots far away, so alien to where the hole is, becomes absolutely essential.
As an albeit lapsed single disability player, you can be made to look incredibly stupid. From some stances, over the back of the green at the 3rd when the pin is tucked left, there is literally no shot to play even close to the hole. Calculating that form of golf is a serious challenge. The feeling isnt of nervousness. Rather, I felt this wasnt actually my domain; that Augusta is for those giants of golf who had earned their right to be there.
I appreciated the beauty of the 6th pit for the first time, as the ball hangs in the air for what seems like an infinity. The green at the 5th had proved far more brutal than I had ever realised. The 4th? Like playing on to sloping glass if a tee shot is overhit.
There is abject disappointment as what seems a perfect eight iron from the 12 th tee bouncings into a bunker behind the putting surface. On 13, after a strong drive, it seems only natural to take on the green in two; cue a visit to Raes Creek. Still irked by what happened four holes earlier, I failed to heed Dougs advice of always taking one club more than you think on the 16 th and watched the ball drop into the sand short of the green.
The round flies by, which isnt why subsequent annoyance decides in. Learning so much about the tactics required to perform at Augusta would be wholly more valuable if you could play there again in the near future. There are, as they say, two chances of that; slim and none.
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