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For those who love golf, visit to Augusta National is an experience like no other

There are few sporting events a person can attend that rival the Masters tournament at Augusta National Golf Course in Augusta, Ga. I grew up watching golf and enjoyed the game on television long before picking up a golf club. I had the opportunity to attend the Masters this year and it was quite an experience. From the front gate to the back nine it’s a testament to how an event should be organized.

The tournament was the brainchild of Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts who wanted to provide a service to golf. The first tournament was held in 1934 and called the Augusta National Invitational Tournament. Roberts wanted to call it the Masters Tournament, but Jones thought the name too presumptuous – he later relented an allowed the tournament to bear the name it does today.

Although the Masters is not an official Professional Golf Association tournament, its long been considered a major tournament, if not the major tournament, to professional golfers. But unlike most PGA sanctioned events, the Masters has no on-course corporate sponsorship. There are no corporate tents, no gaudy signs touting beer, credit cards or automobiles, only perfectly tended green grass, yellow pin markers, a few well hidden concessions for hungry and thirsty fans and an army of on-course workers whose job it is to keep the course clean.

Although the Masters doesn’t release attendance figures, it’s estimated that 30,000 to 40,000 people are on the course each round. That many people make a lot of trash, but walk anywhere on the course and you’ll never see any. And unlike many premium sporting events, Masters organizers don’t gouge you at the concession stand. Most sandwiches sell for $1.50 and beverages range from $1.50 to $2.75. And everything is Masters branded. Beverage cups, potato chip bags and peanut bags all sport the Masters logo. Even the green cellophane bags containing egg salad, tuna salad and their famous pimento cheese sandwiches are all Masters branded.

While the concessions are reasonably priced, getting in to the Masters is a different story. When the Masters began in 1934, you could get a ticket at the gate. That practice continued into the 1950s, when the club was doing all it could to attract spectators. Back then, those who bought tickets were put on a list and Augusta National would send them a letter each year asking if they wanted to purchase tickets again.

According to Augusta National, it wasn’t until 1966 that the tournament was sold out before its start. In 1972 a waiting list was started, but that quickly closed, too. The waiting list was reopened in 2000, but closed again the same year.

Because there is no longer a public sale, a $175 Masters badge, good for all four days of the tournament rounds, can fetch upwards of $5,000. Badges can be passed from person to person during the tournament. Attendees can go out on the course in the morning, then meet others outside the gate and give them their badges for the afternoon play.

Preceded by practice rounds Monday and Tuesday and a par-three tournament Wednesday, the four-day tournament began Thursday. As it progressed toward the final round and golfers began making their move up the leader board, roars from the immense crowd could be heard from different parts of the course as golfers made crucial birdies, eagles or flirted with a hole-in-one.

For me, the most interesting aspect of attending was seeing the golf course and golfers in person. Tom Watson, Phil Mickelson (this year’s winner), Stewart Cink (an Alabama native), Sergio Garcia, and Tiger Woods all were within a few feet of me as they walked the fairways, putted the greens and, occasionally, hit from the pine straw beneath the course’s many towering pines. Managing the course is not an easy task. I’ve watched the tournament on television since I was a little boy but television doesn’t give good perspective on the elevation of Augusta National. Unless you’re in premium shape, walking the course will wear you out.

The Masters is certainly an event everyone who loves golf should try to attend at least once in their life. If you have a personal “bucket list,” it might be worth penciling a visit in.

Dennis Palmer is publisher of The Selma Times-Journal. He can be reached at 410-1712, or by email: HYPERLINK “mailto:dennis.palmer@selmatimesjournal.com” dennis.palmer@selmatimesjournal.com.