By Mike Anthony
When you hear the name Augusta National, several things immediately come to mind. There is the long, beautiful stretch down Magnolia Lane that leads to a majestic and stately clubhouse and, behind that, the impossibly green and rolling hills of one of the world’s greatest golf courses.
At its core, the tournament – as well as the game of golf – is very straightforward. Like most tournaments, play got underway Thursday. There are 18 holes in each round and four rounds of play. Everyone plays the same course in the same order and the lowest score at the end of it all takes the green jacket.
But to conduct that tournament around and through the 200,000 or so patrons who attend throughout the week is anything but a simple and straightforward manner.
Nevertheless, Augusta National – as it does with so many other aspects of a golf tournament – handles it better than any other club out there. Whether watching on television or taking in the tournament firsthand, it is impossible to miss the huge swells of patrons surrounding greens and crossing fairways. The tournament course alone covers more than 100 acres of the Augusta National property, but an army of volunteer marshals are able to keep the patron traffic flowing throughout the week.
With the coordinated efforts of marshals placed along each hole and at breaks in the ropes, players never have to wait for a crowd to clear the area of play while patrons are able to move quickly around the course.
Being able to watch as much of the action as possible is one thing, but Augusta’s greatest feats of hospitality and efficiency can be found in the other amenities.
When gates first opened for Monday’s practice round, many patrons made a beeline for the golf shop. Not only are the two shops on the property, plus some small stands scattered around the course, the only places in the world where official Masters branded merchandise can be purchased, but a total renovation and expansion of the shops over the offseason has produced an even wider variety of items to entice any golf fan.
The line to the shop closest to the main entrance on Monday quickly spanned nearly 1,000 feet toward the main gates, but patrons fearing hours of waiting were surprised to get through without too much hassle. Thanks for that goes to the waves of employees – many of whom are local students on spring break – being knowledgeable and efficient in attending to each customer. From selecting one specific hat or shirt from a wall stocked with dozens of options to churning through checkout lines, the golf shops are a conveyor belt that undoubtedly maximized revenue for the club while getting patrons back onto the course in a timely manner.
Concession lines are much the same. A walk past any of the large stands around lunchtime might look intimidating, with lines stretching away from the facility and seemingly never dwindling. But once in line, it is in a near constant state of shuffling forward. At the counters, I haven’t once found an item to be out of stock, despite hundreds of sandwiches and drinks turning over each minute. The cashiers seem to have added up your total on your way to the register and the entire checkout process is over in a matter of seconds.
And not to go into too much detail, but with three decades of major sporting event attendance under my belt, I can confidently say that you will never have a quicker and cleaner restroom experience than what you’ll find at Augusta.
Oh, and if the walking and heat get to you and you’re tired of carrying around that merchandise from earlier in the day, Augusta allows you to check your items for pickup on the way out. There is also an onsite shipping service provided. I sent a shirt to a college friend in Louisiana during Wednesday’s practice rounds. There were about 50 people in front of me and I was in and out in less than five minutes.
Since the course is only open to the public during Masters week, I highly recommend that post offices and UPS stores hire the golf shop staff for the Christmas rush.
At its core, the Masters and Augusta National is all about golf. The club is home to the most famous tournament in the world and has built a reputation as a must-see venue for the sport.
The club wants its guests to enjoy themselves and knows that – merchandise and famous sandwiches aside – the golf is the main reason everyone is here for the week. The incredibly efficient services provided in and around the grounds is simply a means to the end of enjoying an incredible tournament.
The bells and whistles of the grounds will last throughout the week, but the main event is finally here and it’s time to get down to business. Even sitting at home, grab the southern lunch delicacy of your choice, slip on that Masters hat and enjoy one of the best weekends of the year.